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Prisons budget removes oversight

Published Sep. 29, 2005

State corrections Secretary Michael Moore recommends disbanding three groups that monitor prison operations.

In the midst of intense scrutiny of the Department of Corrections, the agency's new secretary has recommended that the department be freed of independent oversight.

Three days after the Florida Department of Law Enforcement launched a criminal investigation into the death of Florida State Prison inmate Frank Valdes, a draft budget plan was submitted to Gov. Jeb Bush by the office of DOC Secretary Michael Moore. It recommends getting rid of three independent groups established by the Legislature to ensure the state's prison system runs properly.

"Delete," the plan said of the Florida Corrections Commission, a nine-member group that reviews the agency's performance. "This function is not mission critical."

Also on the chopping block are the Corrections Medical Authority, a group set up to ensure prisoners receive proper and economical medical care, and the Corrections Privatization Commission, a watchdog group set up to ensure that private prisons meet their contract obligations.

Bush spokeswoman Lucia Ross wouldn't say what Bush thought of the plan.

"The governor is aware of what's going on at the Department of Corrections," Ross said. "At the moment, we don't have any comment."

Bush, however, has yet to fill six of nine vacancies on the Florida Corrections Commission, and the group has not been able to meet because it does not have a quorum.

Department of Corrections spokesman C.J. Drake said the plan had to be submitted as part of the budget process and added that the timing was "purely coincidental." He said the cuts are part of a larger plan to make up for a $54-million cut made to the department's budget this past spring by the Legislature.

Cutting the three oversight programs would shave $991,899 from the agency's $7.2-billion budget, according to Moore's draft.

Moore also hopes to save money by cutting the staff at prison law libraries, cutting a batterer's intervention program and several post-prison release programs.

"These are tough decisions, but you have to start somewhere," Drake said. "The department's gotten all over the place in terms of its mission. We've reduced our mission to three short words: Protect, incarcerate and control."

The oversight groups don't fit into that definition, Drake said, and do little to help the department conduct its business.

"Did those authorities and commissions prevent any of the current problems besetting the agency?" Drake asked. "No. Did they recommend any actions that we should have taken to prevent these problems? No. I question their usefulness."

The Republican chairman of the House Corrections Committee questioned Moore's motives in recommending the cuts.

"He doesn't want them to be able to oversee anything he does," said Rep. Allan Trovillion, R-Winter Park.

Trovillion said he plans to conduct committee hearings into the Department's problems. Among the questions he said he wants answered: Why did Moore appoint four people to key positions in his huge new purchasing program who have been the subject of past investigations into improper purchasing and bidding practices? Why did the wing where Valdes died have no cameras on it, even though the warden had requested them almost a year ago and the Legislature had appropriated the money?

Moore became the boss of Florida's prisons in January, arriving from South Carolina where he had the same job. Seven months later, Valdes died after a fight with guards and a criminal investigation began into how it happened.

Since Valdes's death, Moore has announced a number of reforms aimed at better detecting and preventing abuse. For example, any time a prisoner is forcibly removed from his cell, it will be videotaped.

But Trovillion said Moore's reforms are "staged only for PR."

"I don't want to see any more articles that say "prison chief stands tough in the face of adversity,' " Trovillion said. "He's not standing tough. He's not doing the job."

Drake said Moore inherited many of the problems at the agency from the previous administration and is working hard to fix them. He said Moore will fully cooperate with Trovillion's committee hearings.

"I'm sorry that Mr. Trovillion feels that way," Drake said. "I can assure you that Secretary Moore has the upmost respect for Mr. Trovillion's abilities."