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Scott Advisers Blast Prison System and Juvenile Justice

By: John Kennedy, The News Service of Florida
By: John Kennedy, The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Dec. 21, 2010 --

Advisers to Gov.-elect Rick Scott called Tuesday for sweeping overhauls to the juvenile justice and prisons system, ridiculing both as failing to meet the needs of those confined to them while also wasting millions of taxpayers’ dollars.

The 25-member law and order transition team, comprised mostly of law enforcement and public safety officials, blasted the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice and Corrections Department, while also firing a couple shots in the direction of state lawmakers. Several names also were mentioned in passing as potential hires for a Scott administration that has been slow to take shape, even as his Jan. 4 inauguration bears down.

Florida lawmakers’ decision last spring to cut $10 million from the state’s Healthy Families program, a roughly 40 percent reduction, was described by the transition team as a “glaring, shameful, foolish example of `penny-wise, pound-foolish,’” thinking by the Legislature. Scott was advised that the program aimed at helping prevent child abuse and neglect should be a central part of reducing youth crime and delinquency.

Frank Peterman, DJJ’s secretary under outgoing Gov. Charlie Crist -- among a handful of appointees not asked to remain for the opening days of the Scott administration -- isn’t singled-out by name. But the agency’s leadership is roundly criticized – with Peterman’s successor urged to have a powerful, new deputy called the “assistant secretary of service coordination,” charged with dismantling the “silos” approach the transition team said plagues the department.

The deputy’s central role would be to coordinate services for the thousands of youth served by department’s wide-ranging community, detention and probation programs.

Judy Estren, vice-president of AmiKids, Inc., in Tampa, was touted as having the “training, expertise…and national reputation,” appropriate for the spot, by Scott’s team. Another former DJJ administrator, Dr. Shairee Turner, now with the state’s Department of Health, should be brought back to the agency by the incoming governor to assist with mental health services.

Her return, Scott was told, “would be invaluable.”

Another top goal: cutting by half the $5,500 per-youth average cost for the agency, Scott’s advisers said. Still, they were also critical of what they described as “tough on crime, but fiscally short-sighted legislators.”

Those reviewing Florida’s Corrections Department, where Scott is looking to save $1 billion over seven years, were even more blunt in their assessment.

“Our team found that DOC is broken. It is lacking leadership, vision and courage,” the transition team said, opening its report.

While Scott is seen as having little warmth toward the state’s Police Benevolent Association, which represents correctional officers and ran television ads attacking his $1 billion in proposed prison savings, his advisers offered some praise to lower-level staff across the sprawling, 55-prison system.

“If it were not for those people in middle management and at staff levels, the organization would have collapsed long ago,” wrote the transition team, whose members included Henree Martin, a prison ministry leader, Robert Woody, Alachua County’s jail director, Linda Mills, a Collins Center for Public Policy consultant, and Paul Hoisington, a Net Communications vice-president.

Among the changes the team recommended are a push toward decentralizing the corrections system, giving more authority to regional directors and overhauling the agency’s management structure. A current eight-person regional administration could be reduced to three directors, the team told Scott.

Drawing a harsh evaluation was PRIDE, the state’s prison industries organization, which pays its president and two lobbyists more than $521,000 annually, while maintaining 56 employees paid more than $50,000 annually on its payroll, according to Scott advisers. The team acknowledged that PRIDE has been targeted for elimination or sweeping change by several state review panels, but has managed to endure.

The department’s inspector general also was recommended for movement out of DOC and into a more independent role – possibly in the office of the governor. Two youth boot camps, Sumter and Lowell, were earmarked for closure by Scott’s advisers.

Sentencing reform and the expansion of faith-based prisons also were urged on the new administration as a means to save money and instill values and skills to keep inmates from returning behind bars.


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