Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida's new prisons chief gets down to business

TALLAHASSEE — Ken Tucker is the fifth leader of the Florida prison system in the past five years.

Tucker, 57, a native of Bunnell, is a career law enforcement officer who spent six years as a police officer in Daytona Beach, followed by 28 years at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He started as an undercover FDLE agent investigating drug smuggling cases in Key West and rose to the position of deputy commissioner.

By his own admission, he doesn't know a lot about corrections.

He was asked to take the job on Aug. 24, just hours before Gov. Rick Scott and his chief of staff forced Ed Buss to resign after only six months on the job.

He quickly told them two things: He had little knowledge of corrections, and he has already set his retirement date for March 31, 2013. So while Tucker said he would offer strong leadership, it wouldn't be for very long.

Tucker recently conducted his first interview as corrections secretary, with the Times/Herald. Here's an edited version of that conversation.

Can you recall the moment you got the call about this job?

(FDLE) Commissioner Jerry Bailey came back from a meeting and said, "You're going to be getting a call from the governor's office and they'd like to talk to you about being the secretary of the Department of Corrections." I have to admit, until that very second I had not ever spent one minute of time considering being secretary … I didn't think I knew a lot about corrections. I admitted that candidly.

One thing the governor said has proven to be accurate. He said, "You don't need to know everything about corrections. You've got a lot of good people in the organization who are subject matter experts." What he told me he wanted from me was my reputation.

Did he give you a choice?

There was never any, "Well, if you don't take this, you're done." I truly believe I had a choice. … When I boiled everything down, I saw this job as a great opportunity to make a difference. The goal of corrections in the state of Florida: What exactly is that? If you ask me, our goal ought to be to reduce victimization and reduce recidivism.

Will you recommend the closing of more prisons?

Crime is down. We also see a corresponding decline in our population. We just fell below 101,000 (inmates). That trend seems to be continuing. We're currently sitting on about 12,000 empty prison beds in this state. So part of what we're going to be looking at is, how do we consolidate some of those institutions? These will be decisions that will ultimately be made by the governor and the Legislature, but I can't make a case that "we can't close these." But there's no list.

How do you feel about reducing recidivism by spending a lot more money on substance abuse treatment for inmates?

We're moving more and more toward evidence-based practices. I don't have a strong objection to substance abuse treatment. Unfortunately, I think it's one of those areas, and I think the statistics will bear me out, it might not work the first time. But does that mean you quit? It may not work the second time. I'm not the lock 'em up and throw away the key type. I never have been. I will make this confession — a lot of the beliefs I held as a 34-year law enforcement officer are maybe not as clear as they used to be.

What's an example of that?

I am a proponent of the death penalty. But I think in my first week, I walk in the door over here, and it's "We've got this, we got this, we got this, and oh, by the way we've got an execution scheduled next week." (After watching an execution team conduct a training session at Florida State Prison before Manuel Valle's execution.)

Don't get me wrong. It hasn't changed my mind. I think there are certain crimes, if you commit them, the death penalty is appropriate. But it does cause you to reflect a little more on how you feel about that … from a faith perspective, from many perspectives.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

.FAST FACTS

Kenneth S. Tucker

. Age: 57. Born Nov. 10, 1954, in St. Augustine; raised in Bunnell.

. Family: Married to Cheryl; four children.

. Education: B.A., criminal justice, University of Central Florida, 1983.

. Professional: U.S. Army veteran; Daytona Beach police officer, 1977-83; Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), 1983-2011; Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections, August 2011-present.

Florida's new prisons chief gets down to business 11/24/11 [Last modified: Thursday, November 24, 2011 9:00pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Trigaux: For Class of 2016, college debt loads favor Florida graduates

    Banking

    Florida college graduates saddled with student debt: Take heart. The average debt Class of 2016 Florida grads must bear is less than students in most states.

    University of South Florida undergraduates gather at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa for last fall's commencement ceremony. A new survey finds their average student debt upon graduating was $22,276. Statewide, 2016 Florida grads ranked a relatively unencumbered 45th among states, averaging $24,461 in student debt. [Photo Luis Santana | Times]
  2. Romano: One person, one vote is not really accurate when it comes to Florida

    Politics

    Imagine this:

    Your mail-in ballot for the St. Petersburg mayoral election has just arrived. According to the fine print, if you live on the west side of the city, your ballot will count as one vote. Meanwhile, a ballot in St. Pete's northeast section counts for three votes.

    Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections worker Andrea West adds mail ballots to an inserter Sept. 22 at the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Service Center in Largo. (SCOTT KEELER   |   Times)
  3. St. Petersburg will hold first budget hearing tonight

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Sunshine City's new property tax rate looks exactly like its current rate. For the second year in a row, Mayor Rick Kriseman does not plan to ask City Council for a tax hike or a tax cut.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman talks about the state of the city on Tuesday, two days after Hiurricane Irma passed through the state. [EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
  4. 'We were lucky': Zephyrhills, Dade City get back to normal after Irma

    Hurricanes

    Two weeks after Hurricane Irma struck Florida, residents and city officials in eastern Pasco — hit harder than other areas of the county — are moving forward to regain normalcy.

    Edward F. Wood, 70, tugs at a branch to unload a pile of debris he and his wife picked up in their neighborhood, Lakeview in the Hills in Dade City.
  5. After Hurricane Irma, many ask: How safe are shelters?

    News

    NAPLES — Residents of the Naples Estates mobile home park beamed and cheered when President Donald Trump and Gov. Rick Scott strolled amid piles of shredded aluminum three days after Hurricane Irma to buck up residents and hail the work of emergency responders. But almost nobody had anything good to say about …

    The Islamic Society of Tampa Bay Area opened its doors to anyone seeking temporary shelter during Hurricane Irma. Evacuees were housed in the Istaba multipurpose building and was quickly at capacity housing over 500 people. [Saturday, September 9, 2017] [Photo Luis Santana | Times]