McNeil moves from DJJ to prisons
Florida's new corrections secretary is Walt McNeil, the former Tallahassee police chief who was recruited by Gov. Charlie Crist to run the state's juvenile justice system for the past year. He was introduced at a Tuesday news conference in the state Capitol.
"I just have enormous respect for his integrity," Crist said. "This is a guy who you can sort of see his heart in his work."
McNeil replaces retired U.S. Army Col. Jim McDonough, who announced last week he was leaving after nearly two years in the high-pressure position, and several months longer than he had planned.
McNeil's appointment came about over the weekend and very quickly. As recently as last Friday, McNeil said no one had contacted him about the post. He told a Police Benevolent Association official he was "surprised but pleased" to be given the new job.(In photo at left, McNeil chats with the PBA's top lobbyist, David Murrell. The union represents prison guards).
"When the governor calls, you have to have a gut check," McNeil said. "The governor said, 'I need you at Corrections.'^"
McNeil was not McDonough's first choice for the $126,000-a-year post. That was George Sapp, a longtime DOC official who now serves as deputy secretary for institutions, and was one of two insiders who submitted a resume to the governor's office. The other was Bruce Grant, who oversees the prison system's probation efforts. Both men were at the announcement and congratulated McNeil.
Florida's prison system is the nation's third largest with about 28,000 employees, 95,000 inmates, an annual budget of more than $2-billion. McDonough came to the rescue after a corruption scandal that led to the downfall of former secretary Jim Crosby. He leaves some big shoes to fill at DOC, where he instituted a zero tolerance policy on corruption and malfeasance, and tried without success to expand programs such as literacy and job skills to reduce the high rate of recidivism in Florida prisons.
McNeil becomes Florida's first African-American corrections secretary since Harry Singletary, who ran the system during the administration of Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles in the 1990s.