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Union challenges corrections’ cutback on home visits to offenders

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012 by Dara Kam

State corrections officials did not go through the proper process when they stopped most home visits with criminals on probation or community control, the union representing corrections workers is alleging in a complaint filed today.

Lawyers for the Teamsters, which represents prison guards and probation and community control workers, are accusing Department of Corrections Secretary Ken Tucker and his staff of changing the number of visits without seeking a rule change, they argued in an administrative complaint filed today.

Union representatives say the new policy is unsafe and that probation officers have found guns, drugs and other illegal activity when visiting offenders’ homes.

“We know that home visits are critical to keeping our citizens safe, whether it’s in their home, at work or at school. The safety of our citizens is paramount,” Teamsters lobbyist Ron Silver said in a statement.

Tucker and his staff late last month ordered probation and community control officers to stop conducting face-to-face visits with most offenders in part to deal with a $79 million budget deficit.

Tucker’s order effectively changed the rules regarding offender supervision but he did not go through the rule-making process, the complaint argued.

And even if he had gone through the rule-making process, the new policy would still be illegal, Teamsters lawyer Holly Van Horsten said Tuesday, because it does not comply with what Florida law requires regarding field visits. They’re asking the administrative law judge to order the department to go back to the old visit schedule.

DOC officials would not respond to the complaint but said they were continuing to visit sex offenders and offenders on community control.

And offenders are still required to meet with their probation officers in the office, department spokeswoman Jo Ellyn Racleff said in an e-mail.

But “other measures will be taken to verify the inmate residence and employment, without having to visit their residence,” Racleff said.

And supervisors can order face-to-face visits with probationers considered a threat to public safety or suspected of violating their probation, DOC spokeswoman Ann Howard said.

“If there’s an order from the court that the person be drug-tested, we’ll continue to do that. Anything the court has ordered, we’re going to continue,” Howard said. “The idea of compromising safety is a bad one. We’re not going to do that.”

Probation and community control officers will be “doing less driving” to save money, Howard said.

“But probationers need to know they will continue to be monitored. We’re not compromising public safety,” she said.

Prison guard stabbed to death by inmate

Monday, March 19th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Convicted murderer Richard Franklin is accused of killing a 24-year-old Columbia Correctional Institution Annex prison guard in Lake City late last night, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.

Franklin is serving a life sentence for his 1995 conviction of the shotgun death of a Bethune-Cookman student. Franklin, now 37, was 20 years old at the time of the crime.

Sgt. Ruben Thomas was stabbed in the neck with a handmade weapon around 10 p.m. last night, according to a DOC press release. Witnesses said Franklin killed him, according to the release. Correctional Officer William Brewer was also assaulted in the incident. Brewer hospitalized and released but requires further medical attention, the release said.

Gov. Rick Scott issued a statement expressing condolences for Ruben’s family and assuring that “Florida is a safe place to live.”

“I am saddened to learn of the tragic death of Sgt. Ruben Thomas last night at the Columbia Correctional Institute annex. My deepest condolences go to his family and fellow correctional officers in Columbia County and across Florida. A second officer, William Brewer, was also assaulted during the attack, and I pray for his quick recovery,” Scott said in the release.

“It is always troubling when members of our law enforcement community lose their lives in the line of duty. These brave men and women dedicate themselves each day to ensure Florida is a safe place to live. We all need to remember the sacrifices and heroic efforts of our officers.”

DOC Secretary Ken Tucker issued a statement calling Thomas a “solid and highly respected” worker.

“The Department is mourning the loss of Sgt. Ruben Thomas. Sgt. Thomas is described as a solid and highly respected member of the Agency and will be remembered in the highest regard. Our condolences go out to his family”, Tucker said. “His death and the wounding of Correctional Officer Brewer is another reminder about the danger Department personnel face every day on the job, and reminds us of the seriousness of our profession.”

Prison privatization critics say they will kill the bill on tie vote in Senate Tuesday

Monday, February 13th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A key senator who helped kill an amendment that would have stripped a controversial prison privatization measure and replaced it with a study said he will vote against the measure on Tuesday in what opponents predict will be a tie vote.

“I liked the concept of the study. But I like the idea of just killing the bill better,” said Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, one of a gang of nine Republicans who have joined with all but one Democrat whose coalition would kill the measure on a 20-20 vote.

Sen. Paula Dockery, one of the leading GOP senators opposed to the privatization plan (SB 2038), insisted after the 21-19 vote on the amendment late Monday that her coalition will put the issue to rest on the Senate floor on Tuesday.

“We do not lose anybody who’s going to be here to vote. My only concern is does somebody get sick, does somebody whatever. But our 20 are solid, 100 percent, anti-, don’t want this to happen. Twenty very solid votes,” Dockery, R-Lakeland said.

The Senate was originally scheduled to be in session in the morning, but late Monday Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher announced on the floor the session had been postponed until later in the afternoon. Sen. Jeremy Ring, a Margate Democrat, was originally slated to be out of town tomorrow afternoon.

Later Monday evening, Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich said Ring’s travel plans were changed so he could be in the Capitol for the vote.

“He’ll be here,” Rich, D-Weston, said.

Prison privatization study dies on close vote

Monday, February 13th, 2012 by Dara Kam

With a 21-19 vote, a sharply divided Senate rejected an amendment that would have done away with a sweeping prison privatization effort, but doubts remain over whether GOP leaders =have the support to pass the outsourcing on its own.

After nearly two-and-a-half hours of questions and heated intra-partisan debate, Sen. Mike Fasano failed to muster enough votes for his amendment that would have stripped the controversial bill (SB 2038) and replaced it with a cost-benefit analysis. Eight Republicans joined 11 Democrats in voting for the measure.

Monday’s actions leave Senate President Mike Haridopolos and other GOP leaders poised to bring up the bill tomorrow. But it’s unclear whether Monday’s vote indicates that Haridopolos, who twice yanked the bill from the floor because it appeared Fasano had the votes to pass his amendment, has enough support for his bill that would die on a tie vote.

Critics of the privatization include Sen. Paula Dockery, who Monday morning released data provided by the Department of Corrections showing that just four of the seven private prisons currently operating in the state are cheaper to run that similar public institutions.

But Senate budget chief JD Alexander insisted the proposal – that would outsource all DOC operations, including more than two dozen prisons and work camps, in an 18-county region in the southern portion of the state – would have to save at least 7 percent, or $16.5 million annually, of the $232.3 million the state now spends on Region IV.

“You can’t get more information than we have. It’s going to be disputed any way you go. The only way you get better information is you privatize a region and find out exactly what the savings are,” Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said, urging a “no vote” on Fasano’s amendment.

Fasano later took umbrage at criticism from incoming Senate President Don Gaetz over the Fasano faction’s refusal to agree to take up a late-filed amendment. Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, kicked Fasano off as chairman of a budget committee because of his public objections to the privatization.

“Just because I disapproved of a policy I was removed as a chairman. Is that process? All this is is a study. Why are we so afraid of a study?” Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said.

Fasano also disputed proponents’ arguments that many of the 3,800 state workers who would be impacted by the privatization could find jobs elsewhere within the system or be hired by the private vendors because the department is shutting down nearly a dozen work camps or prisons.

“Let’s not play those games. That’s not going to happen. People are going to be without a job. Veterans are going to be without a job,” Fasano said.

Are private prisons cheaper?

Monday, February 13th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The state’s private prisons aren’t costing the state less than their state-run counterparts, according to Department of Corrections data released this morning by Sen. Paula Dockery, one of the leaders of a gang of GOP senators opposed to a prison privatization plan set for floor action this afternoon.

Dockery’s data reveal that the four of the private prisons cost less than similar public institutions, but one of those prisons – Gadsden Correctional Institution, which houses female prisoners – achieved its cheaper rate in part because it was compared to Lowell Correctional Institution which also includes a more expensive reception center and Death Row inmates. Read the data here and here.

The private prisons are supposed to save taxpayers a minimum of 7 percent of what it costs to run equivalent state-run facilities.

Among the more expensive private prisons is Palm Beach County’s South Bay, operated by Boca Raton-based GEO Group, with a $48.11 per diem rate for its 1,856 prisoners. That compares to a daily rate of $37.91 per inmate at nearby Okeechobee Correctional Institution which houses 1,619 prisoners. Both have minimum, medium and close custody adult male prisoners.

Overall, the private prisons average $46.73 per prisoner per day, compared to $42.36 per day for public prisons, Dockery found. Those on both sides of the issue say it is difficult to compare the costs for the prisons because of differences in the types of inmates they house. That’s one reason Senate budget chief JD Alexander wants to privatize an entire Department of Corrections region in the southern portion of the state. He says that will make it easier to compare costs with other state-run regions after the privatization is complete.

Senators will take up amendments this afternoon on a proposal (SB 2038) that would privatize all DOC operations – including more than two dozen prisons and work camps – in an 18-county region in the southern portion of the state. Backers of the plan, including Gov. Rick Scott, say it will save taxpayers money. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, estimates the savings at between $14.5 million to $44 million annually.

Dockery and Sen. Mike Fasano, whom Senate President Mike Haridopolos stripped of a budget committee chairmanship because of Fasano’s public opposition to the proposal, insist taxpayers will ultimately lose in the deal.

“In an effort to privatize our state’s prisons, Senate leaders are acting like politicians at their worst – twisting arms in backrooms and giving contracts to special interest donors,” Dockery, R-Lakeland, said in a statement. “They need to start acting like any business in the private sector would and stop using imaginary numbers.”

Meanwhile, the statewide chapter of the NAACP came out against the plan – also opposed by labor unions – this morning. Dale Landry, chairman of the organization’s criminal and civil justice committee, accused Scott and GOP lawmakers of being influenced by the private prison companies’ campaign donations

GEO and Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA, have contributed at least $2 million to candidates or political parties since Scott’s election in 2010. GEO contributed at least $336,000 to the Republican Party of Florida in the past year. The two vendors would be the primary bidders on the plan, which would give contracts to at least two companies to participate.

“One only has to look at contributions by the two primary candidates for operating the private prisons in Florida, CCA and the GEO Group, and we can understand the power of these corporate masters over the Republican leadership,” Landry said. “As a result, they are calling for a redemption of their investments.”

Nurses follow suit over prison privatization suit

Thursday, January 26th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The Florida Nurses Association has filed a lawsuit against the state corrections department over a prison health care privatization effort ordered by lawmakers in the budget last year.

The nurses are using the same argument that the Florida Police Benevolent Association successfully used to kill a prison privatization plan also included in the budget. A Tallahassee judge ruled that the way lawmakers went about the outsourcing was unconstitutional and needed instead to be the subject of a stand-alone bill.

The Department of Corrections is now taking bids to privatize all health services to the state’s 100,000 inmates. The outsourcing would put more than 1,000 nurses and other health care professionals now working for DOC out of a job, according to FNA director of labor relations Jeanie Demshar.

“We believe that any effort to turn thousands of state employee jobs over to private companies needs to be vetted by the public, with input from those workers,’’ Demshar said in a statement.

The suit was filed on Tuesday in the Leon County Circuit Court, where Judge Jackie Fulford scrapped the privatization of all corrections operations – affecting more than two dozen facilities and nearly 4,000 workers – in the 18-county southern portion of the state from Polk County to the Florida Keys.

Lawmakers are now reviving the prison privatization plan, slated for a Senate vote on Tuesday.

Read the lawsuit here.

Senate budget chief Alexander holds emotional meeting with prison workers

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012 by Dara Kam

As promised, Senate budget chief JD Alexander met with more than two dozen prison workers who’d traveled to the Capitol to protest a prison privatization bill approved by his committee late Wednesday afternoon.

Alexander met with the workers after the committee approved the measure by a 14-4 vote and sent it on its way to the Senate floor to a full vote. They pleaded with him to reconsider the proposal that would privatize an 18-county region in the southern portion of the state and affect nearly 3,800 state workers, objecting that Alexander’s estimated $22 million savings are questionable because of “cherry-picking” by the private prison operators currently running seven Florida prisons.

“I don’t do this to hurt people. You all may not believe that but I don’t. I’m trying to figure out how to make all this stuff work,” said Alexander, R-Lake Wales, overseeing his chamber’s version of the state’s nearly $69 billion spending plan.

Private prison guards also do not have to undergo the same training as workers at the state-run prisons, union leaders representing the prison workers said.

The emotionally-charged meeting took place in a large conference room manned by the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Donald Severance and at least two of his aides. Alexander remained calm throughout the 45-minute meeting as the workers tried to persuade him with comparisons about per diem rates and then anecdotes about the fear they have about losing their jobs.

“The privatization has added stress on us,” Martin Correctional Institutional guard Sarah Babineaux said. “I lay awake at night…just thinking about what am I going to do.”

Babineaux has two children and custody of two nieces, she said, one of whom is a 17-year-old senior looking for a high school ring. “And I don’t know where to purchase it, what county, what high school.”

Private prisons cost less because they are able to “cherry-pick” inmates that are cheaper to supervise, the workers said. Alexander said he believed the inmates have been assigned appropriately and later said he would look into the issue.

“I don’t work for anybody but the people of Florida. You might believe that but I don’t. I’m not running for anything. I’m not ever going to work for these folks. I haven’t raised money in years. I have no interest in making money. I have an interest in trying to make a budget work,” Alexander told the group, led by Teamsters lobbyist Ron Silver, a former state lawmaker. “Everything…is to get as clean and unfudgeable a set of contracts as possible because I don’t believe we should contract for one and give them easier stuff. If that’s what they contract for, that’s what they get.”

More reshuffling at corrections – new deputy and Will Kendrick now legislative affairs director

Thursday, November 10th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Ken Tucker has brought in one of his former colleagues from the Department of Law Enforcement as his deputy secretary and hired a former lawmaker as his legislative liaison, according to an internal memo distributed by Tucker’s staff.

Tucker, a top staffer at FDLE before being tapped by Gov. Rick Scott to head the agency after Scott ousted former secretary Ed Buss, has hired Michael Crews as his deputy secretary. Crews, whose resume includes stints as a correctional officer and a probation officer, most recently served as FDLE’s “professionalism program director,” according to the memo.

And Tucker also hired former state representative Will Kendrick. A familiar face at legislative criminal justice committee meetings, Kendrick had been working in the same capacity for the Florida Parole Commission. Kendrick replaces Allen Mortham, son of former secretary of state Sandy Mortham, who “resigned to pursue other opportunities,” according to Tucker’s memo.

Tucker’s been operating sans deputy since the exodus last month of Dan Ronay, Buss’s second-in-command.

Judge orders Scott admin to ‘cease and desist’ prison privatization bidding

Saturday, November 5th, 2011 by Dara Kam

A Tallahassee judge has ordered Gov. Rick Scott‘s administration to “cease and desist” the bidding process for a prison privatization plan she earlier ruled was unconstitional.

Tallahassee Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford late Friday night put the brakes on Department of Corrections officials’ attempt to bypass her earlier decision that the way lawmakers ordered the privatization of the 18-county region in the southern portion of the start violated the state constitution.

In her order, Fulford pointed out that corrections officials reneged on a pledge made Thursday not to move forward with the bidding before a Nov. 16 hearing. Later the same day, the department announced it was reopening the procurement and bids would be accepted after Nov. 10, Fulford wrote.

Fulford ruled on Sept. 30 that lawmakers should not have included the privatization plan in the must-pass state budget but instead should have ordered it in a stand-alone bill.

Scott opted not to appeal, but Attorney General Pam Bondi filed a last-minute appeal late Monday on behalf of state lawmakers, setting the stage for Friday’s court showdown.

In granting the emergency stay to the Florida Police Benevolent Association, Fulford wrote that “defendants are not likely to succeed on the merits on appeal.”

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UPDATE: Scott administration moves forward with prison privatization despite court ruling

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: Tallahassee Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford will hold a hearing at 4:30 p.m. today on the privatization lawsuit. The Florida Police Benevolent Association is asking for an emergency stay to stop the procurement process.

Gov. Rick Scott‘s administration has re-opened bids on privatizating prisons in an 18-county region in southern Florida despite a recent court ruling that the way lawmakers ordered the privatization plan is unconstitutional.

Scott opted not to appeal. But Attorney General Pam Bondi on Monday filed an appeal on behalf of the legislature challenging Tallahassee Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford’s ruling. That appeal opened the door for state Department of Corrections officials to re-open the bids, Department of Corrections officials said in a press release issued late Thursday.

Bids will be due within a week but because of the ongoing court battle “the agency will not sign a contract until the litigation is complete,” the release said.

The Florida Police Benevolent Association, which filed the lawsuit, intends to ask the First District Court of Appeals for an expedited hearing and is asking Fulford to reinstate the stay on the bids she previously ordered.

Boca Raton-based GEO Group is one of the contenders for the privatization plan intended to cost the state 7 percent less than what the department is currently spending on the region’s 29 prisons and other correctional operations.
Read the corrections department press release after the jump.

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Teamsters accuse Florida corrections department of wage theft

Thursday, October 13th, 2011 by Dara Kam

The Teamsters Union is accusing the Florida Department of Corrections of cheating prison workers out of nearly an hour of pay each day, according to a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Labor yesterday.

But the Florida Police Benevolent Association, the union that now represents the state’s 20,000 correctional and probational officers, counters that the Teamsters, in an elections battle with the PBA over the prison workers, are “showboating.”

The one-page complaint, filed in Orlando, alleges the state is in violation with federal labor laws because correctional officers are not being paid for the time it takes for them to go through security and receive equipment such as pepper spray before they can clock in to work. They also have to clock out before dropping off the equipment at the end of the day, according to the complaint. The Teamsters are asking the Labor Department to investigate the practice.

“Correctional officers suffer because of wage theft by the FDOC and also because they have had no pay increases for the past seven years,” said Michael Filler, director of the Teamsters Public Services Division. “All officers who put in a fair’s day work are legally entitled to a fair day’s pay.”

Federal courts in other cases have ruled that the time spent before clocking in is compensable, the complaint says.

But the PBA executive director Matt Puckett said the Teamsters’ latest complaint is just grand-standing because the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled on the issue.
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Scott agrees with judge: Lawmakers should keep policy out of the budget

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Although he supports prison privatization and is committed to a broad expansion of it in Florida, Gov. Rick Scott said he disapproves of the legislature’s use of the state budget to establish policy – exactly how lawmakers ordered the privatization this spring.

“I should have the power to veto things that are major policy changes. I got elected as governor to mamke decisions on behalf of all the citizens of the state and to watch how all the money was spent. I ran a whole campaign on accountability,” Scott told reporters after Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.

Scott appeared to be siding with a Tallahassee judge who ruled last week that the legilsature’s inclusion of the prison privatization effort in the state budget was unconstitutional.

In her ruling against Scott’s administration last week, Tallahassee Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford wrote that, if the legislature wanted to expand the prison privatization, it “must do so by general law, rather than ‘using the hidden recesses of the General Appropriations Act.’”

Scott said he hasn’t decided yet whether to appeal Fulford’s ruling, but was confident the 18-county region privatization of 29 prisons ordered by lawmakers would eventually take place.

“We’re going to do prison privatization in the state as long as we save money. I believe that we’re going to save a lot of money,” he said. During his campaign for governor, Scott said he wanted to slash prison spending by $1 billion – about half of DOC’s total budget.

Still, Scott said he’d like it if lawmakers restrict the budget to spending matters.

“That would be nice,” he said.

Judge rules prison privatization plan unconstitutional

Friday, September 30th, 2011 by Dara Kam

A Tallahassee circuit court judge has ruled that the prison privatization plan included by lawmakers in the state budget is unconstitutional.

Tallahassee Judge Jackie Fulford agreed with the Florida Police Benevolent Association, the union representing correctional workers that filed the lawsuit, that the way the legislature ordered the privatization violated state law.

The privatization of 29 prisons in the southern portion of the state from Manatee County to Indian River County to the Florida Keys should have been mandated in a separate bill and not in proviso language in the budget, as lawmakers did in the must-pass budget approved in May and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, Fulford ruled.

“This Court concludes that if it is the will of the Legislature to itself initiate privatization of Florida prisons, as opposed to DOC, the Legislature must do so by general law, rather than ‘using the hidden recesses of the General Appropriations Act,’” Fulford wrote in her order issued Friday morning.

Lawmakers ordered the Department of Corrections to request bids for a single contract for the 18-county region, requiring that the winning vendor spend 7 percent less than current costs to operate the prisons, an estimated $22 million annual savings.

But under existing law, Fulford wrote, lawmakers must include a specific amount of money for the contract “after a decision to outsource is made and evaluated by DOC for feasibility, cost effectiveness, and efficiency, before DOC proceeds with any outsourcing of services.”

Former DOC secretary Ed Buss testified that he had created no such plan and was relying on the proviso language in the budget to move the privatization forward before he was fired by Scott last month.

“As such, the Legislature has by-passed the very safeguards it built into the process that DOC is required to follow when DOC initiates privatization pursuant to substantive law,” Fulford wrote.

In the proviso language, lawmakers also ordered that a private vendor take over the prisons by Jan. 1.

“From the record, it appears that the rush to meet the deadlines in the proviso has resulted in many shortcomings in the evaluation of whether privatization is in the best public interest as it relates to cost savings and effective service,” Fulford wrote.

Fulford made it clear that the state – which already has six privately-run prisons, including one in Palm Beach County – can expand prison privatization.

But, she ruled, “the Legislature may not change existing substantive law by a proviso in an appropriations act.”

Over Gov. Scott’s objections, ousted prisons chief gives deposition in prison privatization lawsuit

Monday, September 26th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Despite Gov. Rick Scott’s attempts to quash his testimony, former Department of Corrections Secretary Ed Buss this afternoon spent two-and-a-half hours answering questions under oath for a lawsuit about a prison privatization effort ordered by lawmakers this spring.

Lawyers for the Florida Police Benevolent Association, who filed the lawsuit against Scott’s administration, had sought Buss’s testimony before a hearing slated for Thursday morning. The hearing will focus on the PBA’s allegation that the privatization of 29 prisons from Manatee County to Indian River County south to the Florida Keys was unconstitutional because it was included at the last minute in the must-pass state budget, which the PBA contends is intended to deal strictly with spending rather than policy.

Reached by telephone, Buss refused to comment.

Last week, the First District Court of Appeals ordered that Buss give his deposition, upholding a lower court decision that the ousted secretary – fired by Scott last month – had unique information related to the privatization effort. Both courts rejected arguments by Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawyers, representing Scott, that high-ranking officials – almost always named as defendants in court cases – should be immune from having to testify when information is available elsewhere.

The PBA contends its lawyers have been unable to get the information they need from e-mails requested from the corrections department.

PBA executive director Matt Puckett said that lawmakers’ gave Buss explicit directions on how the privatization would be handled but at the same time gave him carte blanche over a separate privatization of all of the agency’s health care services for inmates.

“He just wasn’t consulted,” Puckett said.

Appeals court denies Scott request for second review on deposition of ousted prisons chief

Friday, September 23rd, 2011 by Dara Kam

The First District Court of Appeals rejected Gov. Rick Scott‘s request for a second review of a three-judge panel’s order yesterday that former corrections chief Ed Buss give a deposition in lawsuit over prison privatization.

The appellate court ordered Buss’s testimony yesterday after temporarily halting it last week. The Florida Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents corrections workers, filed the lawsuit over the privatization of prisons in the southern portion of the state.

Lawmakers included the privatization of the 18-county region from Manatee County to Indian River County south to the Florida Keys in proviso language inserted into the budget in the waning days of the session that ended in May. The union argued in the lawsuit that the privatization effort is unconstitutional because the must-pass budget is intended to deal solely with spending – not policy – matters.

A Tallahassee circuit judge ordered that Buss give his deposition, rejecting an appeal from Attorney General Pam Bondi, who represents Scott’s administration.

A three-judge appellate panel temporarily halted the deposition last week but yesterday ordered that Buss, who was dismissed by Scott last month, comply. Within hours, Scott appealed to the full court. This morning, that appeal was rejected.

Scott’s lawyers are arguing that high-ranking officials, named in most lawsuits against the state, are exempt from having to testify in every case.

Scott spokesman Lane Wright said yesterday the governor is fighting the deposition because of the precedent it could set.

“It’s not about this specific case. It’s about all cases. The doctrine protecting high-ranking officials from being deposed is a bedrock principle of Florida law. It’s about the principle of the thing,” Wright said.

No word yet from Scott’s office on whether they intend to take the case over the deposition to the Florida Supreme Court.

UPDATE: Appeals court orders ousted prisons chief to give deposition in privatization lawsuit

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: Gov. Rick Scott has appealed the appellate ruling ordering former DOC Secretary Ed Buss to give a deposition in the prison privatization lawsuit. Scott’s lawyers are asking that the full First District Court of Appeals reconsider yesterday’s three-judge panel’s ruling.
Scott spokesman Lane Wright said the governor’s office is appealing the decision about the deposition on principle because state law gives high-ranking officials immunity from testifying in lawsuits.
“It’s not about this specific case. It’s about all cases. The doctrine protecting high-ranking officials from being deposed is a bedrock principle of Florida law. It’s about the principle of the thing,” Wright said.

An appeals court ordered former Department of Corrections Secretary Ed Buss, ousted by Gov. Rick Scott last month, to testify in a lawsuit over prison privatization filed by the union that represents correctional officers.

The First District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee had temporarily halted Buss’s deposition last week, overturning a lower court ruling ordering him to be deposed by the Florida Police Benevolent Association, which filed the lawsuit.

But yesterday the appellate court agreed that Buss must give his deposition. Scott’s administration tried to block Buss’s testimony because Florida law protects high-ranking officials from having to testify in most court cases.

On Sept. 15, Tallahassee Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford ordered Buss to give his deposition, agreeing with the union in her ruling that the former secretary is “reasonably likely to have unique discoverable knowledge of potentially relevant subject matter.”

Scott forced Buss to resign late last month citing “differences in philosophy and management styles arose which made the separation in the best interests of the state.” One of the reasons for Buss’s ouster was his apparently less-than-enthusiastic support of the privatization of the 30 prisons from Manatee County to Indian River County south to the Keys.

Lawmakers ordered all of the prisons in the 18-county region south of Polk County to the Florida Keys to be taken over by a private vendor in the budget passed this spring. The PBA is objecting that including the policy change in the must-pass spending plan is unconstitutional.

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Scott on Glades prison shut-down: Private sector, not government, creates jobs

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott appeared unapologetic for the shuttering of Glades Correctional Institution on Dec. 1 ordered by his administration in one of the state’s economically hardest-hit regions.

When asked about the decision to close the Belle Glade prison – revealed yesterday afternoon when Department of Corrections Secretary Ken Tucker met with Palm Beach County lawmakers – Scott said his priority is making sure the state spends money wisely – even at the expense of the region’s economy.

At least 250 prison guards now employed at GCI will have to find jobs elsewhere within the prison system or try to get work from at one of the private prisons after the department hands over all prisons in an 18-county region south of Polk County to a private vendor on Jan. 1.

“I think the biggest factor should be how do you spend state tax dollars efficiently and do the job you’re expected to do,” Scott said when asked about the expected devastating effect of mothballing the prison on the region where unemployment in some areas is as high as 40 percent.

When pressed about the impact shutting GCI would have on the community, Scott said: “I think our job is to help build communities. But I personally don’t believe government creates these jobs. I believe government’s job is to watch how it spends its money, fulfill its purposes well but help build private sector jobs.”

Former DOC Secretary Ed Buss, ousted last month by Scott, had appeared amenable to keeping GCI open in another capacity, possibly to comply with a legislative mandate that the department create 800 transitional drug treatment beds for prisoners nearing release.

But Tucker, appointed by Scott late last month, said Wednesday that plan was scrapped because the legislature wanted more than one vendor to provide the step-down beds in more than one location.

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Senate budget chief JD Alexander on prison boss ouster, mental health and more

Thursday, August 25th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Senate budget chief JD Alexander sat down with Gov. Rick Scott for an hour this afternoon at the Lake Wales lawmaker’s request. Alexander was there to pitch Scott on allowing USF Polytechnic to become a stand-alone university at its campus near his hometown.

Before leaving the Capitol, Alexander shared some thoughts about Scott’s ouster of corrections secretary Ed Buss, the $700 million cut to water management districts’ spending and issues coming up in the next legislative session.

Alexander said Buss’s resignation was called for, citing concerns about a possible conflict of interest with the woman Buss hired to oversee the privatization of the prison system’s health care.

And Alexander harshly criticized Buss’s business plan justifying the privatization of all prisons within an 18-county region encompassing the southern portion of the state, calling it “wholly inadequate.”

Alexander included the privatization of the Department of Corrections Region IV in the budget late during the legislative session that ended in May. He’s convinced it will save the state about $45 million.

Perhaps Buss was not as keen on privatization as others in Scott’s administration or the legislature had hoped, Alexander was asked.

“That’s probably true. Looking not from what he told me during session but what he did after session didn’t seem like he was really taking that seriously,” Alexander said.

Read what Alexander says about what the legislature may do about the water management districts, the shuttering of the prison health care watchdog and state contracts after the jump.
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Corrections shake-up: Scott prisons chief quits after six months on the job

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Ed Buss has resigned six months after going to work for Gov. Rick Scott.

Buss will be replaced by Ken Tucker, currently assistant director of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Tucker will not be named as an interim secretary but will take on full leadership of the department, sources in Scott’s office said.

In a statement, Scott said “differences in philosophy and management styles arose which made the separation in the best interests of the state.”

Buss leaves as his agency undertakes the privatization of more than one-third of the state’s prisons in the region south of Ocala.

And his abrupt resignation comes after Scott’s office twice rebuked the former Indiana prisons chief over state contracts. Scott’s office this week forced out one of Buss’s hand-picked aides – Elizabeth “Betty” Gondles” after citing concerns about a possible conflict of interest with the privatization of the department’s health care services. Gondles’ $180,000, 10-month contract was terminated two months before it was scheduled to run out in October.

Last week, Scott’s office pulled requests for proposals from vendors bidding on health services for the state’s 100,000 inmates. Gondles, who oversaw the RFPs, is married to Jim Gondles, head of the American Correctional Association that accredits the facilities. The RFPs required that vendors pay for ACA membership and pay the organization to perform audits.

Also last week, Scott’s office canceled a contract Buss signed with MSNBC’s “Lockup” allowing a crew to film the reality show at a Panhandle prison. Scott’s aides said Buss hadn’t vetted the contract with them before signing it.

Scott locks down ‘Lockup’ filming in Panhandle prison

Thursday, August 18th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Santa Rosa C.I. Lt. Andrew Williams and film crew

More than a week after they began filming at a Panhandle prison, Gov. Rick Scott sent MSNBC‘s “Lockup” crew packing.

Scott’s office this week canceled the contract. Department of Corrections Ed Buss had agreed to allow the film crew to shoot at Santa Rosa Correctional Institution in Milton for about two months. The department would have received about $110,000 for the disruption.

Buss lacked the authority to sign the contract, Scott spokesman Brian Burgess said, because it did not deal with the day-to-day operations of the state prison system.

Late last week, Buss’s office issued a press release touting the filming of the reality show in which prisoners, often heavily-tattooed, reveal what life is like behind bars.

A team from 44 Blue, the production company in charge of the series about life behind bars, began filming last week at the Milton facility. The series was scheduled to run sometime next year.

Buss worked with the production company while at his previous post as Indiana’s prisons chief.

“I have no qualms about them coming into our prisons. I’m proud of our staff and how well our facilities are run, and I hope this will help Floridians understand the challenges we face with our inmate population, as well as the benefits prisons provide to their communities through our programs and re-entry efforts,” Buss said in a press release last week. The release said Buss gave the film crew “unprecedented access” to inmates and staff who agreed to be on film.

Sources within Buss’s office said the warden sent the film crew home yesterday after hearing from Scott’s office.

Buss failed to vet the contract with Scott’s executive staff before signing it, Burgess said.

“The feeling is that it was outside the scope of the Department of Corrections purview to engage the state in an entertainment-related contract,” Burgess said. “Right now the “Lockup” contract is locked up and I don’t’ know if it’s going to be unlocked. It’s not going forward at this point.”

The contract was canceled the same week the department rescinded requests for proposals for privatizing health services in all of the state’s prisons.

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