Monday, December 11, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: New prisons chief makes progress

Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones is right to rebid nearly $1.4 billion in contracts for health care providers in Florida's prisons. Her decision comes at a time when suspicious inmate deaths are inexplicably high and medical teams appear to be short-staffed in many prisons. It makes good business sense for the department to review the state's medical contracts to ensure that inmates are getting adequate care and taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.

Jones announced last week that she would call for bid proposals for medical services providers before the start of 2016. In its invitation to negotiate, the department will look for companies that can provide medical care and enhanced services such as delivering specialized care to inmates with mental health issues, improving the coordination of medical and mental health re-entry planning and implementing electronic health records.

The state privatized medical care in prisons at the behest of the Florida Legislature in 2011. Now the state pays Wexford Health Sources $48 million a year to service 15,000 inmates at nine South Florida prisons. Another contractor, Corizon Health, receives $229 million a year to provide care to 74,000 inmates in North, Central and parts of South Florida. Corizon's contract expires in 2018. Wexford's expires in 2017.

Jones' announcement comes at a dark time for Florida's Corrections Department. The Miami Herald has detailed multiple instances of inmate abuse and death at the hands of prison guards and repeated instances of misconduct among prison staff. The Legislature is considering a bill that would set up an independent oversight commission to increase accountability in prisons, and some legislators have been making surprise visits to inspect prisons. Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman Greg Evers, R-Baker, called on Jones to rebid medical contracts after he visited several prisons where inmates were being underserved.

Jones' aggressive approach to reshaping Florida's prison system is exactly what is needed to turn around an agency rife with problems and accustomed to operating with little accountability. In renegotiating the agency's deals with medical providers, Jones expects to spend more money to pay for expanded services. This will be money well spent, particularly because new contracts should clearly define expectations of contractors and set penalties for failing to meet them.

Jones has occasionally veered off course. Earlier this month, she implemented an order forbidding investigators in the Office of the Inspector General from talking about cases, open or closed, or releasing agency records. Jones said that the move protects the integrity of casework. But it fosters the same type of cloistered environment that has provided cover for the department's wrongdoings. As she continues her good work, Jones should always lean toward transparency. Rebidding the department's medical contracts — and keeping the public updated throughout the process — is a good place to start.

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Editorial: U.S. House sides with NRA over stateís rights on concealed weapons permits

With the horror of the mass shootings at a Las Vegas country music concert and a small Texas church still fresh, the U.S. House finally has taken action on guns. But the bill it passed last week wonít make Americans safer from gun violence. It is an ...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

There is no satisfaction for anyone in the standoff over pay raises between the Hillsborough County School District and its teachers. Most teachers across the nation already are underpaid, but this district simply cannot afford the raises teachers ex...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

With a buildout of $3 billion encompassing entire city blocks, itís obvious that Jeff Vinikís plans will change the look and feel of downtown Tampa. But the Tampa Bay Lightning owner unveiled a broader vision last week that reflects how far the impac...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/08/17
Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

It is dangerous and illegal to text while driving in Florida, and police should be able to pull over and ticket those lawbreakers without witnessing another violation first. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has lent his powerful voice to legislation th...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Editorial: Outsourcing common sense on St. Petersburg Pier naming rights

St. Petersburg officials predict that selling the naming rights to parts of the new Pier could generate $100,000 in annual revenue. But first the city wants to pay a consultant to tell it how and to whom to sell the rights. Why do city officials need...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Another voice: Trumpís risky move

President Donald Trumpís decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israelís capital has a certain amount of common sense on its side. As a practical matter, West Jerusalem has been the seat of Israeli government since 1949, and no conceivable formula for Pa...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Editorial: Tampaís MOSI reinvents itself

Editorial: Tampaís MOSI reinvents itself

A tactical retreat and regrouping seems to be paying off for Hillsborough Countyís Museum of Science and Industry. After paring back its operations, the museum posted a small profit over the past year, enabling the attraction to keep its doors open a...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Times recommends: McClure for Florida House District 58

Times recommends: McClure for Florida House District 58

Voters in Temple Terrace, Plant City and Thonotosassa have an easy choice in the Dec. 19 special election to replace state Rep. Dan Raulerson, who resigned for health reasons. Republican Lawrence McClure is the only credible candidate.McClure, 30, ow...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Editorial: Still waiting for flood insurance fix

Editorial: Still waiting for flood insurance fix

It has been 1,979 days since all heck broke loose in the flood insurance industry. Apparently, that just wasnít enough time for Washington to react. So with the National Flood Insurance Program set to expire on Friday, itís looking increasingly likel...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/06/17

Editorial: St. Petersburg should raise rates for reclaimed water

Raising rates on reclaimed water in St. Petersburg is an equitable way to spread the pain of paying for millions in fixes to the cityís dilapidated sewer system. The city has no choice but to start charging utility customers more as the sewer bills c...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/06/17