Florida DOC Secretary vows to correct serious problems in state prisons

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A year ago, the Legislature and Governor Rick Scott authorized the privatization of health care services to the state's Department of Corrections. The state ended up choosing Corizon to provide such care, at a guaranteed seven percent reduction in savings from the state's in-house health providers. Corizon is the most powerful health care provider for state prisons in the nation, but they've also been accused of providing inadequate care in a number of instances. 

Earlier this summer CL wrote about the miserable medical treatment Tampa native Anthony Carvajal received in state prisons, and the latest news is that a New York City mother is suing Corizon. Corizon provides healthcare at Rikers, New York City's largest jail complex. The woman claims her 19-year-old son died in a cell there last year after being denied adequate medical treatment. 

But the poor treatment of prisoners in Florida prisons transcends their health care needs. In May, the Miami Herald's Julie K. Brown reported on how three former employees at the psychiatric unit at Dade Correctional Institution tormented and abused mentally ill inmates. 

In reaction to those series of stories, state Corrections Secretary Mike Crews announced system-wide reforms in four areas in state prisons this morning.

"Stories report we have fallen short in specific instances with regard to facility leadership, safety, security, training and services for mentally ill inmates," Crews said in a statement. "We’re fixing the problems that have been identified and as we identify new issues, we will fix those too. Our Department should be held to the highest standards, and I have zero tolerance for anything less."

In a memo, Crews lists the categories in which he aims to have the state's prison system improved upon. General health care services over all are not addressed, but mental health care is. Read below:


ADDRESSING MENTAL HEALTH CHALLENGES

Expanded Specialized Training for Correctional Officers

“To address the challenges faced by our staff, we are expanding our Crisis Intervention Training programs for correctional officers. The Crisis Intervention Training teaches our correctional officers the right and wrong ways to handle this specific population, so they don’t unintentionally escalate an incident or hurt an individual with our use of force techniques.

“Six-hundred-and-twenty-five (625) of our officers who are assigned to facilities with an inpatient mental health population have already received this training. Over the next 90 days, approximately 150 additional officers will be designated for Crisis Intervention Training to ensure all staff who work with inmates who have a mental illness have received this specialized training.”

Develop Specialized Re-entry Centers for Inmates who Suffer from Mental Illness

“We will use two of our new re-entry centers to create centers of specialized support for inmates who have mental health needs. We are scheduled to open one center here at Everglades C.I. and another center at Baker C.I. in the spring of 2015. Together, these re-entry centers will house 864 inmates that will all receive vocational and substance abuse treatment. Additionally, we are adding mental health treatment and support services for up to 100 of these inmates. These supports will help the inmates so they can successfully transition back into the community and remain crime free.”

Propose a Case Management Pilot Program

“We have already begun coordination with the mental health and substance abuse experts at the Department of Children and Families to propose a pilot program that will help inmates with mental illness make a smoother, more successful transition back into mainstream society with the support of a case manager. The use of a case manager can help the inmates who are leaving our system be more successful in the community.”

CREATE TRANSPARENCY DATABASE

“As a Department, I want to take better advantage of technology so we can communicate even more effectively with the public, and be more efficient in providing public records and public data. Through the use of technology, we have the opportunity to provide the public with greater access into the functions of the Department – especially in cases when an inmate dies in one of our facilities. With over 100,000 inmates in our custody, we function much like a city where the vast majority of inmates who pass away do so from natural causes.

“We want the public to have access to the information that is available to us, and that’s why in the next 30 days, we will make releasable information on in-custody deaths available to the public on a website. The website will also include all cases that are still under investigation and will be regularly updated.”

INCREASE ACCOUNTABILITY

“I expect everyone to do what is right and I have restated my commitment to hold the staff who chose to not meet our expectations accountable for their wrongdoing. As we reviewed case files and penalties for improper acts, it became clear to me that we have not been applying a uniform standard by which to hold ourselves accountable. The lack of consistent consequences for the same crime had the potential for undermining the culture of professionalism that is necessary for running institutions with integrity.

“That’s why the Department is developing a clear and consistent policy that will outline the initiation of disciplinary action up to and including dismissal against any employee whose conduct violates any criminal statute. A criminal conviction is not necessary for disciplinary action to be taken.”

REFORM INVESTIGATIONS

“Today, I am proud to announce that we have begun working with FDLE Commissioner Gerry Bailey to give the Florida Department of Law Enforcement full investigative authority on all deaths at all of our facilities that are the result of any non-natural causes. In total, FDLE will become the lead on 82 active cases that are currently led by Department of Corrections inspectors.”


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