Project on Accountable Justice releases report on Florida prison reform

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As one of Florida’s largest and most controversial agencies, the Department of Corrections — after months of troubling news stories about inmate abuses — is in need of radical reform and improvement.

The Project on Accountable Justice (PAJ), based at Florida State University, released a research report Thursday focusing on ways the agency, and the State of Florida, can better the state’s correctional system.

As of June, Florida DoC houses nearly 101,000 inmates in its 56 state prisons and 7 private facilities, as well as supervising almost 144,000 active offenders on supervision at more than 150 probation offices statewide. The Department also employs roughly 21,000 employees, mostly Correctional Officers or Correctional Probation Officers.

Despite its size, however, public awareness of the state corrections system often comes only when things go wrong, such as reports from the Miami Herald detailing the deaths of prisoners after altercations with guards.

“Florida’s prisons are too often ‘out of sight, out of mind,’” said PAJ’s board chair Allison DeFoor. “The success or failure of our correctional system is felt like a shockwave throughout our communities.”

DeFoor said a better system of dealing with lawbreakers benefits all Floridians, since failure in corrections results in more victims, more costs and fewer reformed offenders.

The PAJ report outlines five recommendations centering on providing stability in leadership, outside auditing and accountability, enhanced training with measurable results; smart investments designed to avoid recidivism and improved data collection for policy improvements.

The recommendations are:

  • Create a Public Safety Oversight Commission, an independent advisory council responsible for external oversight of both the departments of Juvenile Justice and Corrections. The board would be responsible for monitoring the conditions of all Florida state correctional facilities.
  • Unlink the Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections’ term from the Governor’s term of office.
  • Participate in the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI), a data-driven examination process that can inform policy and budget deliberations, as well as provide a public platform to raise awareness and accountability for public safety
  • Create a multi-year, measurable strategic plan to support and advance the professionalism and culture of Florida correctional officers
  • Expedite the implementation of performance measurement and management

The purpose of the report is to continue a dialogue on corrections reform in Florida, touching on issues such as external oversight enhances and advances public safety; incarceration itself is a punishment, and the idea that rehabilitation is the central purpose of corrections.

“Our research-based recommendations are focused on creating reduced crime and victimization, rehabilitated individuals and restored communities,” said PAJ director Deborrah Brodsky. “Florida’s Department of Corrections oversees a population of men and women larger than 44 of Florida’s 67 counties – it’s clear that what occurs inside prisons has very real implications for the rest of us.”

Launched in 2012, the Project on Accountable Justice is a partnership of FSU, Baylor University, St. Petersburg College, and Tallahassee Community College. As an independent, non-partisan organization, PAJ’s mission is to provide public-interest research and education to advance public safety with evidence- and research-based information on criminal and juvenile justice in Florida.

More information on PAJ is available at iog.fsu.edu/paj/.

Recommendations to Improve DOC 11-12-14

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.