Corrections leader promises ‘free passage’ for prison guards who speak up

THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

Corrections officers called to testify before state lawmakers won’t face retaliation, Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones assured senators Monday.

Jones told members of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee that anyone who addresses the committee “will have free passage.”

She added that the agency has started to hold meetings at the different prisons to address safety equipment, staffing and other concerns.

Committee Chairman Greg Evers, R-Baker, said a number of corrections officers he’s talked to have said they would testify before the committee if subpoenaed.

Fear retaliation
However, Evers said those people “are afraid of retaliation” if they publicly discuss concerns about issues such as staffing levels, shift hours, the lack of proper uniforms or below-grade equipment.

“They all stepped up and said, ‘Absolutely, here’s what is going on, here’s what’s happening, but this is what will happen, because then I will be looked at as if I’m snitching on somebody,’ “ Evers said.

Last month, Jones told a House panel that a staff directive barring inspectors from disclosing information about investigations was necessary to shut down gossip and protect investigators.

Major probes
Jones’ appearance before the House committee came after six whistleblowers sued the Department of Corrections over a “gag order.”

The agency has been getting hit from all sides. Among other things, it faces investigations into inmate deaths, allegations of cover-ups, complaints about low staffing levels and questions about health care provided to prisoners.

A proposal (SPB 7020) to create new penalties for guards who abuse prisoners and establish a new commission to oversee the prison system was to go before the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee this week. The proposal previously received support from the Criminal Justice Committee.

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