Sunday, December 17, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: Reforming Florida's prisons

The state Department of Corrections appears to be serious about making systemic changes in prisons. Thirty-two officers were fired last week for violations ranging from participating in the gassing death of an inmate to using force against prisoners. The firings are the latest in a series of housecleaning efforts, and the department took an important first step toward transparency earlier this month when it launched an online database detailing inmate deaths. These are positive steps toward Department of Corrections Secretary Mike Crews' promise to make the agency and its workers more accountable and transparent. But it will be a long-term endeavor to reform a department that has long been resistant to change.

The corrections department is under scrutiny after a series of Miami Herald reports this spring that examined suspicious inmate deaths in Florida prisons. The newspaper found several cases where inmates died after being abused or neglected by corrections officers. Darren Rainey, 50, collapsed and died in 2012 after guards left him in a scalding shower for nearly two hours. Rainey, who was mentally ill, was being punished for defecating in his cell and refusing to clean it up. Corrections department officials said allegations of abuse and subsequent coverups were the result of a few bad apples and that the entire staff would be held to greater account.

In August, Crews pledged systemwide reforms, including getting rid of staff who broke the law or department policy. On Friday, 32 officers employed at prisons around the state were fired, including three former guards at Franklin Correctional Institution who were connected with the gassing death of 27-year-old Randall Jordan-Aparo. So far this month, Crews has fired 45 officers around the state for violations ranging from battering inmates to driving with a suspended license.

Earlier in the month, the department launched the transparency database, which is located at www.dc.state.fl.us/pub/mortality/index.html and is searchable by facility. It allows users to view the status of each investigation and manner of death. It includes summary reports for all 2014 closed, non-natural death investigations that are conducted by the department. It will eventually contain information for all inmate deaths over a 14-year period.

Given the nature of prisons, the potential for abuse is rampant. And Florida has had its share of prison problems, including at the highest levels. In 2006, for example, former corrections Secretary James Crosby resigned and went to federal prison for accepting kickbacks from prison vendors.

It should not have taken pressure from the media to get the corrections department to institute major reforms. But now that it has, the department should be commended for moving quickly to implement its new disciplinary policy for wayward employees and for opening its records. Both are good starts in an attempt to change a culture that has long operated unchecked by outsiders. Crews should keep it up.

Comments

Editorial: Warren’s smart approach on guns, domestic violence

Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren would make it safer for victims and police alike with his plan to remove firearms from defendants charged with domestic violence. These cases are toxic enough, and having guns at the ready only adds to a dang...
Published: 12/15/17
Editorial: St. Petersburg council right to reject Bayfront deal

Editorial: St. Petersburg council right to reject Bayfront deal

The St. Petersburg City Council made the difficult but correct decision this week to reject the proposed sale of a local nonprofit’s minority stake in Bayfront hospital. Despite months of negotiations, there were too many questions, a few suspicions ...
Published: 12/15/17
Editorial: Congress should fix flood insurance, children’s health insurance before Christmas

Editorial: Congress should fix flood insurance, children’s health insurance before Christmas

Here’s a snapshot of misplaced priorities in Washington. Last week, the Federal Communications Commission foolishly rushed to scrap net neutrality rules and allow internet service providers to treat different content differently despite overwhelming ...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
Editorial: Scott’s smart changes to sexual harassment policy

Editorial: Scott’s smart changes to sexual harassment policy

With misconduct allegations rippling through all levels of government, Gov. Rick Scott has taken the prudent step of ordering uniform sexual harassment policies throughout state agencies. The executive order strengthens protections for victims, which...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
Editorial: MOSI faces a clean slate and should give everyone a piece of chalk

Editorial: MOSI faces a clean slate and should give everyone a piece of chalk

For three years, the only news about finances at Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry was bad news: "Struggling MOSI asks Hillsborough County for $400,000 loan," one headline read, "Audit sees MOSI finances slipping," read another, and "MOSI donor ...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
Editorial: Rubio should make good his threat to oppose tax cuts without changes

Editorial: Rubio should make good his threat to oppose tax cuts without changes

For once, it would be nice to see Sen. Marco Rubio stand up as the independent leader he aspires to become. For once, the Florida Republican should hold his position rather than bow to pragmatic politics. Rubio can stick with his threat Thursday to v...
Published: 12/14/17

Another voice: A shameful anniversary

Josephine "Joey" Gay should have celebrated her 12th birthday this week. She should have been surrounded by friends and family in a place festooned with purple, her favorite color.Chase Kowalski should have been working toward a Boy Scout merit badge...
Published: 12/13/17
Updated: 12/14/17
Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Timing is everything, and Sen. Bill Nelson seized the right moment this week to call on his colleagues to pass legislation he filed earlier this year that would block the Trump administration from opening additional areas to offshore drilling. With t...
Published: 12/13/17

Another voice: Alabama picks an honorable man

THANK YOU, Alabama.In Tuesday’s special election, the state by a narrow margin chose to spare the nation the indignity of seating an accused child molester in the U.S. Senate. Though the stain of electing Republican Roy Moore would have sullied Alaba...
Published: 12/12/17
Updated: 12/13/17
Editorial: Tax cuts aren’t worth harm to Tampa Bay

Editorial: Tax cuts aren’t worth harm to Tampa Bay

As congressional negotiators hammer out the details on an enormous, unnecessary tax cut, the potential negative impact on Tampa Bay and Florida is becoming clearer. The harmful consequences stretch far beyond adding more than $1.4 trillion to the fed...
Published: 12/12/17