June 10, 2015
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Published June 20, 2015
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Equally important, the governor’s new Corrections secretary, former Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles chief Julie Jones, is a breath of fresh air.
She says that she wants to professionalize staff, rehabilitate inmates, shrink the rate of repeat offenses and, in the process, reduce crime and improve communities. As if these ideas weren’t alien enough to Florida’s fossilized lock-‘em-up and punish ‘em mindset, Jones wants guards to treat inmates with “compassion.” Her word.
Literacy programs. GED classes. Vocational training. College courses. Anger management. Substance-abuse recovery. Mentoring. Connection to family. Jones wants all of it made available to her inmates.
Jones’ mindset may not please the prison-is-punishment crowd. But it reflects a practical reality. Eight in 10 Florida prison inmates will return to their community after an average stay of less than 3.5 years. Florida has a choice. It can return those inmates as more hardened, more dangerous, more violent people; or it can return them with new skills, self-worth and a new sense of purpose, she said.
“If we are going to lower the prison population, we have to prepare our inmates not to come back,” Jones told The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board this week.
She says the governor supports her change in direction. He told her about his brother, who has had his own challenges with substance abuse and mental health problems, she said.
“He said, ‘I know people can be rehabilitated if given the correct services and in the correct manner,’” Jones recalled.
Scott issued an executive order May 8 calling for changes she embraces. He now phones her every other week to check in on what’s going well, what’s not and ask how he can help, Jones said.
Jones deserves applause and support for taking up a daunting challenge.
As Florida's largest state agency, the Department of Corrections employs more than 22,000 members statewide, incarcerates more than 100,000 inmates and supervises nearly 146,000 offenders in the community.