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Florida governor orders prison system audit

Published Jul. 9, 2015

Two days after the release of a grand jury report assailing the Florida Department of Corrections in connection with an inmate's beating death, Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday issued an executive order calling for an independent audit of the besieged agency.

The audit, to be conducted by the National Institute of Corrections and the Association of State Correctional Administrators, will focus on staffing and organization — and ways to improve safety, security and rehabilitation, Scott said.

It will allow the agency "to better identify what works and what doesn't work, and apply lessons learned across the state's entire correctional system,'' the governor said in a news release.

The order establishes two state prisons — Lake Correctional Institution and Liberty Correctional — to be used as "prototypes" for the agency's reforms.

The move comes just two days after a grand jury rebuked of the agency for "numerous and disturbing deficiencies'' by DOC staff leading up to and following the April 2014 death of 45-year-old Matthew Walker at Charlotte Correctional Institution.

Calling Walker's death "suspicious,'' the panel concluded that corrections officers tainted the crime scene after beating Walker so severely that they crushed his larynx and broke several ribs. Walker's death, attributed to asphyxiation, was ruled a homicide.

The Charlotte County grand jury said the actions of the officers, while not enough to bring criminal charges, were so abhorrent that the panel questioned whether the officers — and other DOC staff — were fit to serve the citizens of Florida.

Scott did not address the grand jury report.

The measures outlined by the governor on Thursday expand upon reforms being implemented by Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones, he said. Scott also said the agency will continue to work to serve the mental health needs of its prison population, which, at 101,000, is the third largest in the nation.

The agency has been accused by civil rights groups and others of fostering a culture in which corrections officers have abused, tortured and medically neglected inmates with impunity. Last year, the agency recorded 345 deaths, the highest number in its history.