Prison boss Crews cruises through Senate hearing
The people who run state agencies often dread Senate confirmation hearings. Even though it's highly unusual that a governor's appointee isn't confirmed, the televised sessions can lead to awkward or "gotcha" questions and nervous answers -- on live TV. Bureaucrats hate being blindsided.
But Corrections Secretary Mike Crews had an unusually easy time of it Monday, as the Senate Ethics & Elections Committee unanimously confirmed him. It did not hurt that the panel's chairman, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, remains impressed by Crews' handling of a crisis at a Largo work release center, where two inmates escaped and are accused of committing rape and murder. The Largo center, run by a private vendor, is the largest work release center in the state.
Latvala said 40 correctional officers and seven search dogs arrived at the center the morning after the crimes were committed, a response he called "nothing short of fantastic" in a densely-developed part of his district with hundreds of fearful mobile home residents nearby.
Crews, the third corrections secretary under Gov. Rick Scott in slightly more than two years, said the Largo center is newly reinforced with fencing and that 52 inmates with murder convictions have been shifted from work release centers to traditional prisons. He said his goals are to eliminate the agency's chronic budget deficit, expand inmate re-entry programs and enhance the agency's image. He made an aggressive pitch for more money to relieve staffing shortages, and he said last weekend, a captain at Florida State Prison had to call 132 correctional officers to find three officers to fill out a shift.
"Every night I go to bed," Crews told senators, "if I've not gotten a call about a staff assault, it's a good day in our department."