Five Questions For Florida DOC Secretary Julie Jones

February 5, 2015

Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones came out of retirement to take over a troubled agency dealing with reports of cover-ups involving inmate deaths, whistleblower lawsuits and state and federal investigations into prison activities.

Tapped in December by Gov. Rick Scott, Jones is the first woman to lead the agency overseeing more than 100,000 inmates. She retired last spring after a five-year stint as chief of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Prior to that, Jones served more than two decades at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, where she worked her way up to director of law enforcement before taking the highway-safety position in 2009.

Five questions for Julie Jones:

Q: You’ve taken over an agency that is the subject of lawsuits from workers who say they’ve been retaliated against for exposing wrongdoing. The department is under state and federal investigation at different prisons for corruption and abuse and is the object of almost daily critical news reports. Do you think you’ll be able to turn the agency around and instill public confidence and particularly assure families of inmates that when their loved ones enter institutions they will come out alive?

JONES: I am absolutely confident that we are going to be able to right this ship. I say that based on my confidence in the people that work for this department and the solid reputation that many of our people have in their communities. We’re doing a series of surveys right now. We did an online survey. We’re also going into every institution. I have a team that’s going there for me. The teams that are entering into these institutions are finding people that care. They understand their role. They want to be involved in reentry. They want to be involved in getting that inmate in and out. They are standing up saying that they are not going to let a few people ruin their reputation. That’s what’s happened. There’s been a small number of people that have tarnished the entire system, the entire corrections system. It pains me that it’s been so effective. You heard me say in testimony last night (in a Senate committee) that it’s a perception. I truly believe, yes, we have pockets of resistance and people that probably should not be corrections officers but they are few and far between. It’s my confidence in the existing staff that leads me to believe that we can fix it and that I’m going to be able to be accountable to those families and friends of inmates, and for them to know that they will be safe in our institutions.

Q: Your predecessor, former Secretary Michael Crews, said that there were problems with flooding, leaking roofs, supply shortages and a list of other troubles that went way beyond perception.

JONES: We definitely have an infrastructure problem. Mr. Crews talked about it. I have talked about it. We have approximately $116 million in infrastructure needs. But because that number is so large, it’s better for me to break it up in chunks. I asked staff, what can you do this year? And the answer was $15 million for fixed capital outlay, and the governor’s put it in the budget. This solves another problem. Because we’ve been underfunded in that category, to keep the roofs fixed we’ve been keeping vacancies in our officer positions to fix the roof. That creates an officer safety issue. It creates issues inside the institutions that create tension. If we fix the funding issues associated with this agency, I think it goes a long way to stabilizing the environment. Fully staffed institutions means we now can deliver all those services to those inmates, and get them into the system and get them out of the system, preferably in a better way.

Q: The department is estimated to spend $33 million on overtime this year, largely because of staffing shortages. You asked for $16.5 million to fill vacant positions. That would only fill about 300 more than 2,000 jobs that were cut over the past several years. Can you fill critical staff positions at prisons with the amount of money you requested?

JONES: The staffing level on the books is not the issue. Stopping the use of salary dollars for roofs, for bed linens, for medicine, for all the stuff that we’re using it for and using it to staff the institutions is the goal here. I have a list of every institution, and that list gives me current required positions, total facility positions and then staffing. My suggestion was 96 percent. You’re never going to have every position filled, just because of churn — people retiring, quitting, going off to another job. That number, for staffing goal, is 16,283 positions. We have 16,851 authorized positions. That looks like we’re overstaffed. In reality we’re not. Because there’s another issue that’s key to staffing a prison and it’s relief factor. We want the issue of relief factor to always be considered in a staffing matrix. So you can ask me how many bodies I need. Then I’m going to tell you when someone goes on leave — they’re sick, military leave, maternity leave — you always need a little fudge factor in there for extra staffing to keep everything filled. That number is a couple of hundred more. So we’re very close to being fully staffed. That’s why when the governor looked at me and said, “How much money do you need?” we did an analysis of the entire system but also went beyond just the security section, the institutions part. That $16.5 million is for every critical position in reentry, in the institution units and the correction probation, our community corrections people. Because all three have to work seamlessly and integrate with one another in order to help that inmate out of the system. You’re going to hear me talk more and more about taking that individual when they enter into a reception center, do every evaluation that we can and then tell that inmate, here is your reentry plan. You may have a two-year sentence. You may have a 10-year sentence. But we’re going to immediately begin the process to get you the resources that you need to be safe. You’re not going to be happy in a prison. No one’s happy in a prison. But to keep you occupied. To get you educational classes, vocational, drug and alcohol rehabilitation — anything that we have available for you to get into the correct correctional environment to have that corrections piece be real. Right now, because of the staffing and because of some gaps in our budget, I believe we warehouse people. We need to start to be a correctional institution now.

Q: There’s been some criticism, including from senators, about your interpretation of the use-of-force statistics. There was an increase of 1,017 incidents of use of force, an 18 percent rise. But you explained that numbers weren’t really going up because the number of incidents that could have resulted in use of force but did not went up by more than 2,000. Can you explain your interpretation of the use-of-force data?

JONES: It’s very important when you talk about use of force to understand it’s a negative term but it’s not necessarily a negative act. I was trying to say that use of force is anything from holding someone’s arm and escorting them into a room all the way to doing a cell extraction. Those cell extractions, by the way, are planned. They’re safe. And they’re always videotaped. That goes to some of the questions on how do you know when force is used. We know because we try to video any encounters, if not at the beginning of the encounter, at the end of the encounter. The three biggest areas of increase last year were in self-defense, use of force to quell a disturbance or use of force for physical resistance to a lawful act. I also said yesterday that the number of times we had to react to those issues were up 894 but the precipitating act associated with that 800-plus increase were actually 2,812. What I was trying to say was yes, we had an increase of laying hands on an inmate for a legitimate purpose and it was because we had almost double an increase of times where those officers had to react. So yes, it went up, but so did the precipitating acts. The point that I think was lost in the discussion was use of force is 99 percent of the time legitimate. It’s necessary. We use use of force to quell riots, disturbances between inmates, when we have inmates with weapons, when we have possession of stimulants. We dispense a lot of pills in our corrections institutes. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether they swallow the pill or not. They go back in and it becomes contraband. Someone else is taking medication that they shouldn’t. Aggravated battery on an inmate or on an officer. We have assaults not only on inmates but on officers. And we have unauthorized possession of contraband, which is usually cell phones. And then gang-related activity. We actually had an increase from 187 incidents to 244 with gang-related activity. These are the kinds of things our officers are encountering. So it sounds terrible. It’s increased by almost 900 incidents of use of force when in actuality, because we’re training officers with critical incident techniques to lower the temperature when they encounter many of these situations, the number of misuse where you violated policy in your use of force and were subsequently disciplined — remember an increase of almost 900 incidents — the misuse, the illegal use of force by a corrections officer went down from 40 to 27 incidents. So these numbers are big. But you have to understand what the numbers represent. And the key number for me is violations of policy are down. I believe it’s down because we’ve done a lot of training in the last six months and it’s proving to be very, very valuable. In 2010, when we closed 23 institutions, we put almost 12,000 inmates into already-occupied dorm space. So we put more people together. Close confinement of 12,000 more people into the same or similar institution I think has created tension. We have these chronic vacancies. So just the fact that we don’t have fully staffed institutions where we can keep an eye on every inmate at every corner means that sometimes we have an inmate that walks up to the control room with an injury that we didn’t observe. Someone else did that to them. Staff assaults have gone up 12 percent. That’s the other piece that I think is missed in this. The correlation between staffing and use of force indicates that the officers are doing something wrong. The number’s going up so they must be at fault. And they’re not. The question that very few people ask me is, is there a correlation with staffing and assaults on officers and injuries to officers, and indeed there is. Officers are quelling more disturbances and doing it correctly and getting injured more often. That’s the story. That last piece is very rarely spoken about.

Q: One of the first things you did after taking over was to look at the health-care contracts and say they needed to be reworked. Senate Criminal Justice Chairman Greg Evers ordered you this week to renegotiate the contracts immediately. Has the time come for the state to rethink the privatization of health care for inmates?

JONES: Let me talk about the accountability measures. We need liquidated damages. We need penalties. And we need to totally rethink the behavioral sciences piece that’s associated with mental-health care in these contracts. These contracts were done under a request-for-proposal standard. I think they need to be rebid under an invitation to negotiate so we can really sit down with vendors and talk about where their skills are, what they have to offer and set mutually agreed-upon goals about what is success and what is staffing. I intend to look at this very hard in the next two weeks. I know Sen. Evers said rebid today. But frankly I have to take a seamless approach to how we do these contracts because I need a continuum of service. These two companies that have these contracts can give me 120-day notice and walk away. I don’t want that to happen. I want us to come to an agreement where we mutually agree that we need to redo how we’re operating under these contracts and then rebid. I do not believe that privatization of health care was a failure. I believe that if we had done it correctly with the right procurement instrument we would have been much more successful. But I want the ability to look at all angles. I believe that if we went back to state employees it would be much more expensive than the current contract. But rebidding the contracts as they exist today would be more expensive. So we’re going to have to look at it from all angles. Do we continue with privatization or do we partially privatize? All of these options will be on the table. Going back to fully-staffed (full-time employees) with state employees I do not believe is an option.

by Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida


18 Responses to “Five Questions For Florida DOC Secretary Julie Jones”

  1. Karen on February 21st, 2018 6:05 pm

    Please explain why prices are so much higher at Madison than at Gulf?

    How do you determine the price of items? There are the prices in the grocery store.

    2 lotions @ 3.18 =6.36
    3 soaps @ .98 =2.94
    2 batteries @ 3.25 =6.50
    1 dental floss @ 2.47
    1 colgate toothpaste @3.45

  2. phillip watson on January 17th, 2016 8:40 pm

    My son in law and many of his co-workers work two or more jobs to make up for low prison worker pay. They will probably be forced to quit the prison system if the shifts
    are changed to 8 hour rotating shifts. This will make all the problems worse with
    staffing and lead to lower quality workers. If you want to cure some of the problems
    raise pay and retain better workers.

  3. Kim on January 17th, 2016 5:23 pm

    My husband has been a correctional officer for the last 6years. We do like the 12hour shifts because he has time off to spend with the kids. We can make do with going back to 8 hour shifts as long as they don’t do this ridiculous 8hour rotating shifts that some people are talking about. Working 7 days straight with 2 days off and switching shifts each week would not work at all. If the state did the 8 hour rotating shifts like this my husband would have to find another job because we would have to pay for daycare and can not afford to. They keep saying they want to keep the experienced officers but they are not taking into account that they have families and all the changes they keep making affect them too! Correctional officers are supposed to report to their assigned post 15minutes prior to shift start but time sheets don’t account for that 15minutes each day. What about when they get relieved 10minutes late? Most of the time that doesn’t get counted either! I think correctional officers deserve a pay raise. They are risking their lives everyday without any weapons to keep these criminals behind bars. I think the state should look into trying to keep the officers who have been with the department for more than 5 years. What will make these officers want to stay? Julie Jones is trying to make a difference we can all see that but she has to keep in mind that correctional officers are just as hard working as every other law enforcement agency.

  4. Kathy Carlin on February 11th, 2015 9:14 am

    I have a daughter incarcerated at Lowell. She is a model inmate who agrees that there needs to be more training of staff esp in regards to treating every human being with respect. Inmates should not be subject to harassment, yelling obscenities at them and intimidation. That is cruel and unusual punishment. The punishment for inmates is that they have lost all their freedoms; the freedom to be with loved ones, the freedom to do everyday ordinary things like go to Starbucks for coffee and so forth. If you treat someone subhuman, they will react negatively.

    There is no rehabilitation. Most of the crimes were driven by drug addiction and most of the women were victims of sexual or domestic abuse. They need to learn coping skills, social skills and job skills. If they had more to do like movies, board games, art supplies and so forth they would be more manageable and happier-thus easier for the guards. When my daughter was at PCJ, she was able to have colored pencils and color books and she had the whole pod coloring which created an atmosphere of calm. Creativity is healing. But at Lowell, none of that is available except through donations. Why is that? No matter what, these are the children of the Creator and we have an obligation and a moral duty to nurture that divine spark that is within all of us and miracles can and do happen. And from what I have seen, the justice system is broken, the prison system is broken and most of these women are given long prison sentences that are not justifiable. My daughter’s appeal lawyer said if she had done her crime in another state, she never would have gotten the years she did. My daughter had always been a productive member of society, was going to RN school, worked at a hospital and had gotten addicted to oxys prescribed to her for a back injury. She cold-turkied off the oxys and got introduced to crack to help with the withdrawals and her whole life fell apart in 30 days. Anyway, she takes responsibility for her actions and is doing her best to grow and learn in this situation. But, as mother, it is heartbreaking to see the way she is treated at times, the lack of resources (she is an artist) and the uncaring attitude of the prison system. She was assaulted and her jaw was fractured and it took the prison 26 days to allow her to see a doctor. She still has problems and I complained and the dentist finally did see her but blew her off and did not even check her jaw. It is a very sad situation. I hope Ms. Jones can change the system for the better.

  5. J.W. on February 9th, 2015 5:58 am

    I retired from D/C as an administrator. I can tell you that the biggest problem is still the unashamed cronyism. Things are no different today than they were when Secretary Crosby was sent to Federal prison for corruption. Governor Scott needs to get a clue! He has appointed more secretary’s than any other governor in history. You cannot leave the fox in the hen house and expect a new rooster to to take care of the problem. The same bunch has been running the show during the Governors entire tenure. the Secretary is nothing more than a figurehead. In order to fix this mess a shakeup from the secretary to the wardens needs to take place. The same deputy secretary and regional directors have remained. Until they are replaced, do not expect anything different. I would think Governor Scott would have picked up on this since he’s on his 4th secretary.

  6. DavidHuieGreen on February 7th, 2015 6:55 pm

    “Are you drawing two (2) checks from the tax payers called double dipping and Scott said would not happen any more?”

    Paid retirement you earned and paid for work you are doing isn’t wrong even if it is worded to sound bad.

    If Governor Scott said he wouldn’t do it, he shouldn’t — because people should do what they say and be careful of what they DO say, but not using useful humans or stiffing them for what they are owed is also wrong.

    David for just compensation and honest people

  7. A Spouse on February 7th, 2015 3:10 pm

    Region 2 CO, you may not get paid overtime, but, you are getting more money, as for the ones that have to travel to work, they actually save money on gas, because they’re not driving 5 days a week plus you can schedule appts., w/out taking off work & burning time accumulated unless your one of the ones that bang in, & don’t care an iota what you leave your crew in, plus you are right on the weekend part, some people do go to church & if you have Mondays & Tuesdays off, you miss church. If the state would start punishing those that have a history of banging in & rewarding the ones that don’t, then they’d also find out who wants to work & who don’t & maybe help them decide on another career. Most of what I hear actually like the 12 hr, if you don’t like it, then maybe it’s time for you to change your career, you sound like you’d rather sit on the couch. Not judging or assuming, just going by your comment.

  8. Region 2 CO on February 6th, 2015 9:20 pm

    I am CO that has been with the state prisons for almost 14 years. 8 hour shifts will be a good step for us to go. Many staff are liking the 12 hours because we get every other weekend off. But with the 12 hour shifts, We are working 84 hours every two weeks and we are NOT getting paid extra (only straight time) because the governor has mandates policy through the courts that it’s okay because we are civil public safety workers. Working 8 hours shifts again would have us at 80 hours every two weeks again. With the 12 hours, we are tired, stressed out and unhealthy. We are totally sleeping in or running errands on our days off and for those staff with kids or live far from the prisons it’s even worse. We have to get ready before our arrival time and have errands and chores to do after we get home from a shift so it’s really more like 18 hours a day from when we get up to when we go to bed and that’s assuming we can get to sleep once we lay down.

  9. chris in Molino on February 6th, 2015 6:20 pm

    Everything Mrs. Jones says the department is doing is a facade. Since you portray a seasoned officer, you know FAC is interpretive. Rules are designed in favor of security. If they are in favor of inmates, theres ways around that. Example; Never seen a recorded use of force and the inmate is fine. Conveniently, there are technical difficulties with the camera or the battery has to be changed, and when the video comes back on the inmate is beat. Oh amazingly the inmate started resisting during the battery change right ? Never seen an inmate gassed for no reason ? It’s all about the dollar. When package permits stopped it was because thats how drugs were coming in (officially) Really it was because central office realized inmates families were spending millions of dollars on items like super 2 radios, pro 25 headphones, silk pajamas, leather bedroom shoes and they weren’t getting a piece. So, cut out packages, offer canteen items like cheap bobo shoes, inflate the price 500% because their forced to buy it. Remember the clear craze. Wasn’t the department’s idea. Corporations marketed cheap clear plastic radios amoung other items. (BTW- you can get one of those radios for $3 at flea market) FY1999, MCI gave FDOC 55% of total cost of the phone call, totaling $28m for the department. I can go on and on.
    Bottom line 90% deserve to never get out. They’re animals. But call it what it is. You cant feed me oatmeal but tell me it’s grits.

  10. Just me on February 6th, 2015 7:06 am

    All I can say is good luck to the officers. I’m so glad I left the co life. Thank god

  11. Ponch on February 6th, 2015 1:17 am

    @ Current Officer

    Stand up against the Governor? You do know who appointed her Secretary, right? Don’t kid yourself. She will do exactly what she is told to do, just like every other Secretary before her. As far as asking for money for positions goes, she is merely asking for money and positions that were cut by HER boss-the Governor. This is just a facade that’s part of his whole “putting Florida to work” campaign.

    I agree that a calm prison is much safer for both staff and inmates, but I disagree that a correctional officer’s job is a “service to the inmates to keep them happy & healthy”. Their job is a service to the taxpayers of this state that pay their salaries to keep the convicted felons inside the fence-away from their victims, families and loved ones, as this is their punishment. None of them are happy to be in prison, but if you are referring to making sure they have access to the things that occupy their time such as TV’s, books, programs to help them, etc., as well as being treated fairly and humanely, then I agree with you. Medical/dental/psych staff are there to keep them healthy.

    As far as what I said about a use of force and you’re rebuttal, I certainly hope that everytime you’ve ever properly escorted a restrained inmate or helped them in or out of a transport vehicle, that you did your use of force report.

  12. No Excuses on February 5th, 2015 11:17 am

    Mary Lou,

    I appreciate your frank post on this blog about how things really are. Some might say that corrections is not there to keep the inmates happy or healthy, but guess what? You are, in some respects, required to keep inmate tensions down in order to promote staff safety. Inmates without a lot of gripes tend to be easier to manage. If you lock someone up, you are obligated to keep them healthy to at least a standard required of basic humanity. Once again, communicable diseases do not differentiate between CO’s and inmates. Staff safety. All of this goes back to staff safety. Less use of force incidents (and yes, I do know the tier system for use of force whether calculated or immediate), which also promotes staff safety. How about programs to reduce inmate idleness and reduce recidivism? All things that need to be addressed in MHO. I know that things must be taken care of first, but these are all valid and legitimate concerns on my part. Plus, a decent salary and benefits is a good incentive to do your job, do it well and do it by policy. Give Ms. Jones a chance to I prove her worth. I’ve not read anything here that I don’t think can be accomplished, in spite of the negativity. Sometimes, inmate management is an art. Respect can go a long way to decreasing inmate/officer tensions and it has to start somewhere. Why not with the professionals?

  13. Current Officer on February 5th, 2015 10:24 am

    Let me address some of the issues your are talking about:
    Staff is important to her and she is finally listening to staff, and is finally going to get us some help, two people in a dorm with 150 to 250 inmates is not safe in any way for either inmates or staff.
    We are responsible for care, custody and control, and if you think that we don’t want them happy, your crazy, sometimes you can feel the tension on the compound when you walk through the gate and a quiet compound is better then an unhappy compound.
    any time you put your hands on an inmate it is a use of force, it doesn’t matter for any reason, if you put your hands on them you better report it and get the proper paperwork started.
    We don’t have the staff to go back to 8 hour shifts, we don’t even have enough to cover the 12 hour shifts, that is why the overtime is so high. We are losing people as soon as we hire new people, they are going to the counties where the can make $45,000 to $50,000 for just walking in the door. State Officers have not had a raise in over eight (8) years, we are barely getting by and most of the officer’s with families are also receiving food stamps, that is how bad it is.
    Yes DOC is different from DHSMV OR FWC, but she is the first one to come in and be able to get things done, If the Governor would have done his job and not cut our budget and not fired over 2,100 staff members, we would not be in the shape we are in now.
    I would have liked to see her mention giving us a pay raise, then we wouldn’t be losing all of our experienced staff to the counties and the feds, they need to catch our pay up with the rest of law enforcement, we are about 15% behind their salaries.
    I say give her a chance to make the changes and see what happens, before you make up your minds. She is only one person and it’s going to take the legislature to work with her and they are going to have to stand up against the Governor and not back down to get this done.

  14. Mary Lynn McDavid on February 5th, 2015 7:52 am

    There are some things that have to be done quickly, not only with use of force, but with officers lying about their interactions with inmates. They will claim an inmate made a threat or committed some other serious infraction, but then either the audio or the camera or both were not operating. This is a common impetus for use of force, as the officer’s word is always believed over the inmate’s. Kind of how it was with teachers decades ago. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Also, when exaggerated use of force is used, they must make sure that the officers involved are really the ones who were. There are “goons” who are shielded because of their “effectiveness.” I have been told that new hires will find themselves listed as invovled in an incident when they were not. This is a 200 year old culture. Also, contraband is a problem, as it makes criminals out of the both the officers and the inmates. The ban on smoking has been like the war on drugs–everyone is doing it, only the cost went up. In my decade of working with inmates the stories are always similar, so I believe they are pretty consistent about what really goes on. One last thing: do inmates really have to be addressed with profanity? It is so unprofessional. Even the most hardened criminal will respond to a little respect.

  15. John Johnson on February 5th, 2015 7:46 am

    She’s clueless, guys:(
    Another “competent leader” hand selected by our infamous criminal gov.

  16. Just saying on February 5th, 2015 6:31 am

    A lot of use of force has stopped because they’re afraid they will lose their job. Officers everyday are disrespected, they can’t send them to confinement because it’s full, they’re no such thing as convicts anymore they’re jitterbug inmates. A convict accepts where he’s @ & does his time, & the other is there to aggravate people like they did on street, is what’s causing use of forces to go up.

  17. charlie on February 5th, 2015 4:26 am

    I have one more question for Ms. Jones,

    Are you drawing two (2) checks from the tax payers called double dipping and Scott said would not happen any more?

    And the answer is???.

  18. Ponch on February 5th, 2015 12:55 am

    Five statements for DOC Secretary Julie Jones:

    1. Correctional staff should be more important to you than the violent felons they supervise.

    2. Correctional staff are not there to keep the inmates happy & healthy

    3. Holding an inmate’s arm and escorting them into a room is NOT a use of force

    4. Returning to 8-hour shifts will not fix your staffing OR use of force issues

    5. Prisons are very different than the DHSMV or FWC

    Too bad Senator Greg Evers already has a job…at least he has a clue!

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