Florida Department of Corrections chief Mike Crews will be stepping down from an agency plagued by multimillion-dollar deficits, reports of abuse by prison guards and alleged retaliation against whistleblowers.
FDOC spokesperson Jessica Cary confirmed to Dara Kam of the News Service of Florida that Crews submitted his resignation Monday morning.
Although resignation rumors have circulated for months, this would be the first department head to step down since Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election earlier this month. Crews was the third DoC secretary in Scott’s first term.
After reports of abuse by prison guards and inmate deaths, Crews, 53, made reform a top priority. A former prison guard, Crews dismissed dozens of prison workers, introduced new conduct standards and called for investigations of over 100 inmate deaths by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, where he spent three decades prior to serving as FDOC deputy secretary in 2012.
African-American leaders are calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to expand investigations into wrongdoing at a number of Florida prisons, Kam writes.
Earlier this year, corrections investigators working for Gov. Scott’s inspector general also filed a lawsuit against Crews, Scott and others, claiming they were retaliated against for uncovering the death of an inmate, which led to a wave of questions about inmate abuse.
Ed Buss, Scott’s first prison chief, resigned after less than a year over clashes with the governor’s office over contracts and privatization efforts thwarted by the Legislature.
After Buss was Ken Tucker, a longtime officer of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, who was a mentor of Crews. Tucker left two years ago to join in the state’s retirement program. Crews took over in Dec. 2012.
Once Crews took office, the agency had a $2 billion budget and was $120 million in debt, all while embroiled in a legal battle over privatizing inmate health services, Kam reports. Crews launched a series of cost-cutting proposals, such as inmates washing dishes by hand, sewing their own clothes and making their own laundry soap. Crews’ goal was to get the deficit down to $15 million by 2014.
However, FDOC troubles only increased this summer after a Miami Herald report on Darren Rainey, a Dade Correctional inmate suffering from mental illness who died two years ago after guards purportedly punished him by forcing a shower in scorching hot water. Rainey’s death drove Crews to fire the prison’s warden and personnel at other facilities where prisoners died under suspect circumstances.
Another incident, which prompted an FBI investigation, occurred in October at Suwannee Correctional Institution, where rioting inmates injured five prison guards. The death of inmate Shawn Gooden on April 2 at the same facility is one of more than 100 inmate deaths under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
In the lawsuit brought on by investigators, whistleblowers say they began in 2013 to examine accounts of prison guard misconduct at Franklin Correctional. The study revealed an earlier investigation into the death of inmate Randall Jordan-Aparo in 2010.
The more initial probe found claims that Jordan-Aparo died in solitary confinement after repeated gassing with noxious chemicals were “false and misleading.” Since then, several of the guards complicated in Jordan-Aparo’s death were fired.
Kam writes that Crews also threatened in September to stop payments to Missouri-based Corizon, the company that received a five-year, $1.2 billion contract for health care services for the majority of the state’s inmates. Crews blamed Corizon for failing to follow through on audits revealing deficiencies in medical care, nursing and administration, among others.