New DOC Head Less Interested in Lock Up, Throw Away Key

By: Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida
By: Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, February 21, 2011 --

More drug treatment, juvenile intervention and giving judges more flexibility in sentencing are the ways to improve Florida’s correctional system, the state’s newest prisons chief said Monday.

With only 96 hours under his belt, DOC Secretary Ed Buss spoke to reporters for the first time, answering questions on a range of issues he’ll likely face as he leads one of the nation’s largest prison systems during tough budget times.

Buss, 45, was lauded by his former boss, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, as a rising star in a new generation of prison officials when Scott tapped him to replace Walter McNeil.

With 29,000 inmates and a $650 million budget, Indiana’s prison system is much smaller than Florida’s, a sprawling network of facilities and programs overseeing more than 102,000 prisoners at a cost of $2.4 billion.

Scott has called for streamlining the agency and cutting close to 1,700 jobs. Buss, who cut 1,000 jobs while head of Indiana’s system, said Monday he’ll target middle and upper management first before cutting into front line workers.

“We will streamline from the top first,” said Buss, adding that he’s cut a third of his executive staff. “We’ve already done that.”

Buss said he intends to push for more innovative programs and early intervention to reduce the adult prison population. A major focus will be on juvenile justice and replacing “tough love” with job training and substance abuse programs.

“The boot camp model is no longer in vogue,” Buss said. “As it turns out, it hasn’t got us the outcomes we wanted in terms of reducing recidivism. These kids today have substance abuse issues like we never seen before. They need to get back in school and get an education.”

That approach is a sea change from the last couple of decades when getting tough on criminals was the demand from a fed-up populace. A series of minimum mandatory sentencing laws has taken effect over that time, including required minimum sentences for crimes using guns, such as 10-20-Life and a number of minimum mandatories for drug crimes, part of the so-called “war on drugs.”

Buss favors giving judges more discretion in handling cases.

”Florida is using incarceration as its number one form of justice,” “Buss said. “If that is the policy decision, you have to realize you are going to have to pay for it because incarceration costs the most compared to other alternatives.”

In addition, drug rehab, vocational and educational programs have been cut as lawmakers have dealt with increasingly tight budgets.

Buss said he said he thinks he can convince legislators and the governor that a little spent up front on those types of programs pays dividends in the end.

“I’m going to do my best,” Buss said. “This governor likes to measure. I’m going to show the measurements to prove to him that where we’re going is the best practice on where we should be going.”

Scott has talked about closing two prisons and privatizing others. Given the tight budget, Buss is onboard, saying Florida must look at less expensive and more successful programs, especially for non-violent offenders.

Buss’ remarks came Monday as Scott visited the Department of Corrections, one of a series of stops at the agencies he now oversees.

Despite the fact that he is proposing substantial job cuts at the agency, the governor was received cordially. Employees did raise concerns about his plans to require state workers to contribute more to their retirements, and possible cuts to health benefits at a time when they haven’t received a pay raise in several years.

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  • by Kaypin Location: FL on Mar 1, 2011 at 06:57 PM
    I think they should focus more on record expungement. That way, you mete out just punishment, but when they have paid their dues, they can integrate into society again.
  • by Jim Location: Gadsden County on Feb 23, 2011 at 08:00 AM
    Folks we know what this means. We been down this road before. We will just have more criminals on the street. Leeches/Predators on society.
  • by tax payer Location: fl on Feb 22, 2011 at 03:05 PM
    i know alot of you are disapointed. then you complain about high taxes. the legal system is a joke. it is all abut money. if it wasent about money they could careless. like charley crist said if you beleive in realibation you got to let go sometimes. if not pay up and keep locked up forever.
  • by Clueless Location: La-La-Land on Feb 22, 2011 at 02:59 PM
    This Governor has no idea what he is doing. Just because he found a way to defraud the citizens out of billions of dollars does not translate to competence as a leader. He stole billions and bankrolled a campaign with ill-gotten gains, and essentially bought the highest office in this State with commercial buys. I would be willing to bet that few Floridians have ever heard him speak live, because his campaign staff was too smart to allow him to debate and conduct genuine press-conferences. Man it is absolutely painful to hear this guy speak. He makes our former president look like Mark Twain. God bless us all because amateur hour has come to the White House and now it has come to the Governor's mansion.
  • by Anonymous on Feb 22, 2011 at 02:06 PM
    Anonymous on Feb 22, 2011 at 01:45 PM Obviously you don't know that by the time the appeals etc. are done it costs a LOT more to execute a prisoner than keep them for their average lifetime. Well, if you don't believe me, look it up yourself. It's a fact. Before you scream get rid of the appeals, search how many innocent men Texas has executed in the last 10 yrs. Just use the ones that are undeniably found to be innocent by DNA evedence, so you don't accuse me of being a lib, I am certainly not. But, the fact remains that it costs the State more to execute a prisoner than keep him for life.
  • by Anonymous on Feb 22, 2011 at 01:58 PM
    Anonymous on Feb 22, 2011 at 03:23 PM WHAAAT??? You need some serious mental help, or there is no help for you. You can't fix stupid. Glad to hear you have been perfect all your life and never made one single mistake. Fortunately, NOBODY who is an educated expert on "the war on drugs" agrees with you. I mean NOBODY. Not conservative experts, not liberal experts, nobody. Pretty good evidence that your idea is stupid and you're a kook.
  • by Anonymous on Feb 22, 2011 at 12:23 PM
    if the biggest problem is drugs, then lets make it a mandatory death sentence for anyone selling illegal drugs. that way, there would be no one selling them so there could be noone buying them. Lets put all the drug dealers to death and stop the supply of illegal drugs.
  • by Oliver Location: Tallahassee on Feb 22, 2011 at 12:13 PM
    I am a fiscal conservative. I was once a staunch social conservative. My views on everything else have softened over the years. An irony occurred to me: If we condemn everyone to prison for minor acts, we have to pay for it. My "Lock them up and throw away the key" opinions aren't relevant today. People make dumb choices. Parents, teachers, cops, kids, etc. make poor decisions in a moment. Do we as taxpayers want to foot the bill for locking them up forever? Can we help some through a difficult time and not pay for a 5, 10, 15 year incarceration? Look at all the non-violent crimes clogging up our system. Look again at those that are first time offenders. Dollars to doughnuts, we can kill two birds with one stone. Put first timers into treatment/community service/ mentoring and help them to think clearly. Expunge their record one time after they've served. It will cost less than locking them up the first time.
  • by IMO Location: N. Florida on Feb 22, 2011 at 11:33 AM
    how about decriminalization? where does that factor in to these changes? sure would save a lot of money and sure would generate revenue to help us make our ends meet.
  • by Josh Location: Monticello on Feb 22, 2011 at 10:52 AM
    Drugs have a stranglehold on our kids and, with a medical field unprepared to deal with mass addictions, the prisons are where the 'lucky ones' end up. We all need educated on how to spot & treat addicts; our "throw-em-away" attitude is filling the cemetaries and prisons.
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