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Bush pledges to continue outside prison oversight

Gov. Jeb Bush plans to retain the independent groups that oversee the state's prisons, at least for the time being.

"Everything is very volatile at the Department of Corrections right now," said Lucia Ross, Bush's spokeswoman. "This is not the right time to be making changes."

Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Michael Moore had suggested cutting three independent groups established by the Legislature to ensure the state's prison system runs properly.

The July 20 draft budget plan was prepared at Moore's direction three days after the Florida Department of Law Enforcement launched a criminal investigation into the death of Florida State Prison inmate Frank Valdes. Investigators think guards may have beaten Valdes to death.

The draft plan suggested cutting the Florida Corrections Commission, a group that reviews the Department of Corrections' performance; the Corrections Medical Authority, a group that ensures prisoners receive proper and economical health care; and the Corrections Privatization Commission, a group that monitors whether private prisons meet their contract obligations.

The cuts were intended to save money, according to a department spokesman who questioned the grups' usefulness Thursday.

The governor has left six of the nine slots on the Florida Corrections Commission vacant, but Ross said he would be appointing new members soon.

"Perhaps in the past the commission was not doing its job as it should have been," Ross said. "But we're going to appoint some good people and have a good oversight body."

Bush's deputy chief of staff, David Rancourt, said the draft plan was a "budget exercise," and did not constitute a formal recommendation. But Rancourt held out the possibility that the idea could be revisited at some later date.

"If at some point down the road there's a recommendation from the agency, we'd be happy to consider it," Rancourt said. "Ultimately, the Legislature would have to make that move, and we would be part of those deliberations."

_ Staff writer Lucy Morgan contributed to this report.