Secretary Michael Crews at the Site Visit, Lowell Correctional Institution
He said what he meant and he meant what he said! Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) Secretary, Michael Crews, made it perfectly clear – ZERO tolerance for inmate abuse. He is traveling to every prison in the state communicating the message that inmate abuse is an unnecessary evil that puts their job on the line, puts the Department in a compromising situation and puts the governing authority into the hands of Federal and State investigative agencies. And, if the abuse continues, the Agency will not survive. This wake-up call comes on the wake of the growing number of criminal investigations which include the publicized death of Mr. Darren Rainey, a mentally ill inmate, who was scalded in the shower at Dade C.I. on June 23, 2012.
This painfully passionate message of The Secretary and the Deputy Secretary, Timothy Cannon, which had been delivered over the last 8 weeks to all but 18 prisons, was heard by the leadership staff (white shirts) at Lowell C.I. on August 27, 2014. The message indicated that something is critically wrong. FDOC is currently dealing with 8-10 criminal investigations and they all have two common elements – inmate abuse and the violent use of force. Mr. Crews clarified that use of force is necessary for safe management of an institution but it must be warranted and accurately documented. He told the group that it’s the Cowboys, the Bad Seeds, that deviate from the regulating policy and when they take matters into their own hands, criminal investigations take center stage.
In addressing his attentive audience, Sec. Crews stated that doing the right thing must be modeled by leadership. And if the high ranks don’t set the right example for their staff, someone else will soon be telling the Agency what to do. He informed his ‘white shirts’ that the FBI, FDLE and Miami-Dade are currently targeting and investigating some of FDOC’s own and that the media has flown with these stories to the perch of doom and gloom. Crews likened the media to sharks – if they see a little bit of blood, they’ll keep biting. However, he added that the media is doing their job and is not the target of their anger. He asserted, that anger should be directed toward those staff who took deliberate actions to put the entire Agency at risk. When asked by the media if abuse defines the culture of FDOC, the Secretary answered with a resounding NO! When asked if the investigations were a personal embarrassment, he answered in the affirmative. And he told everyone that they too should be embarrassed by the actions of their fellow officers but to keep in mind that the minority, the Bad Seed, does not represent the employee base.
Segments of Paula Dockery’s article (Tampa Tribune, 7/8/14), entitled Governor’s Lack of Outrage is Outrageous, is in sync with the words of the Secretary. She states that during her service as Chairman of the Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee, she visited a dozen prisons. She affirms that she is no softie on crime and that those who break our laws should be held accountable. Ms. Dockery admits that corrections officers have a tough and dangerous job, working with some of the worst of the worst and dangerous gang members and contends that the vast majority of officers and their supervisors are good, decent, hardworking men and women who deserve our respect and appreciation. She maintains that there are always bad apples, as with any organization, but when they become emboldened in our prisons, it can and does have deadly consequences. This columnist states emphatically that strong leadership is needed at the top of the Department and within each of our correctional facilities.
FDOC is the largest employer in the state with a staff of 24,000 and an annual budget of $2.2 billion. Mr. Crews is proud of the quality of his people and assured them that they are not taken for granted. But he is visibly outraged that a small pocket of staff, from one end of the state to the other, still choose to resolve things their way.
In his words, “We are done tolerating their crap! Period! We’re through with them! In going forward, the old ways are no longer acceptable. Inmate abuse will leave you without a job and may lead to prosecution and imprisonment. (He named former officers now serving time in federal prison for violent inmate abuses.) When you accepted your position as leaders, you accepted certain responsibilities – to encourage, support and give opportunity to your staff by preparing them for advancement. You also took on the responsible of identifying the Bad Seeds that jeopardize inmate safety, officer safety and agency credibility. This person may be someone you’ve grown up with, a friend, perhaps a family member so this may be difficult, but they’ve got to go. It is not your responsibility to protect and cover up for Bad Seeds, your responsibility is to expose them. Remember that your staff looks to you for leadership, be blunt and make it clear that inmate abuse will not be tolerated on any level. Make it clear that those who violate policy jeopardize the livelihoods of their fellow officers. Ask them if it is worth putting their jobs on the line and no longer be able to to provide for their families, all because they failed to expose wrongdoing? No longer can you turn a blind eye. If officers are allowed to continue these behaviors, it sets the stage for subordinates to follow. You must have the guts to pull your people aside that are doing the wrong thing and demand they ‘STOP THE ABUSE’ and then make sure it stops. Pay attention to detail, document to the nth degree and make sure reports accurately reflect actions taken. Determine when something is not right and remember the message – ZERO tolerance for inmate abuse. And ZERO tolerance for staff abuse. If you get caught up nothing you can make up, cough up or pull out of the wind will help because there is nothing an inmate can do to put you in a position to commit a homicide. If changes are to be made, it’s you and I who must make them. JUST DO THE RIGHT THING!”
Once the Secretary finished his explicit message, Deputy Secretary, Timothy Cannon, a man who speaks from the depths of his faith, stepped to the podium. He spoke honestly of being embarrassed by the mess he was brought into when he started with the Agency 26 years ago. He recounted to the staff that he was informed upon orientation that the ones in brown were better than the ones in blue. Through it all, he learned that inmates are people who made one or even multiple bad decisions. He told of a time during his 6 years as Captain when he initially made a poor decision to dismiss a complaint he received about a situation in the chow hall. But later, when he decided to personally investigate, he found the complaint had merit.
Cannon told his ‘white shirts’ not to dismiss the message because you don’t like the messenger. He then asked a question to illustrate a compelling analogy – “How many of you trust the inmate?” Not a single hand was raised. So he asked how many would rush to investigate if an inmate told you the whereabouts of a contraband cell phone. Every hand in the room went up. He quickly pointed out the hypocrisy of discounting the inmate’s word except when it results in a personal plus for the officer. The Deputy resumed this line of questioning by asking why staff hesitates to take investigative action when they are told by an offender that an officer purposely destroyed his family pictures or willfully took his headphones.
The Deputy stated that Rules are your best protection but you’ve got to know them in order to abide by them. He explained to his leaders that they are on stage every day and that their officers don’t just listen to what they say, they watch what their superiors do. He stressed the point that as public servants, they are accountable – that includes being accountable for what they do in confinement dorms at 2 a.m. Deputy Cannon went on to state that the Agency closed 19 prisons in 3 ½ years and hired 4861 correctional officers in the last three years. These are brand new, impressionable young staff and this gives ‘white shirts’ ample opportunity to treat everything that happens on their shift as a leadership moment. He urged them to investigate questionable incidents, to call the camera. He warned that some incidents will be embarrassing and stories from officers and guards will differ from that of the inmate. But he told them to support their staff when they are right.
Deputy Cannon stated that Florida is one of only 6 states that still uses chemical agents. He
asked the group how many of them have family, friends or a significant other in prison – 70% raised their hand. He asked how they’d want their daddy to be treated if he were behind the barbed wire and told them they should never treat any other offender any differently. Inmates are human beings and inmate abuse comes in many forms. He told his staff that abuse occurs when you walk into confinement and an inmate tells you he hadn’t eaten in 2 days. Then you walk away and do nothing, that is inmate abuse. He challenged his ‘white shirts’ with a provocative question, “ What is the product of our organization, what are we tasked to produce?” The answer rests with the lives we change, with the level of public safety we effect and the quality and condition of the people who leave our facilities and return to their communities. The average inmate has a 6th grade education with the intellectual ability of an 11 year old. Our product is the life that we change, it’s the level of public safety we effect. From July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013, 33,295 inmates were admitted to prison, and 33,137 inmates were released. FDOC is in the people business. Our motto Changing Lives to Ensure a Safer Florida echoes that. If you’re not a people person and if you’re not all about changing lives, this is not the job for you. We’re here to make a difference.” Although Deputy Cannon’s message will come easy for some it will be a serious stumbling block for those who choose not to comply.
In our efforts to be part of the solution, Forgotten Majority will begin and maintain a data base that will consist of exit interviews from offenders statewide. Letters with voluntary surveys will be sent to each ‘returning citizen’ within 30 days of their release and they will be invited to relate their prison experience (the good, the bad and the ugly) once they reach solid ground. A preponderance of the data collected will help the Regional Offices and Central Office to separate the wheat from the tares through solid identification of internal trouble spots and troublesome staff. And those Bad Seeds who continue to expend their energies abusing and dehumanizing offenders will be quickly exposed.
Mr. Duane Spears, Region 2 Asst. Director, mentioned that FDOC is like a locomotive, it’s moving in the right direction but it’s going to take some time to get there. At Forgotten Majority, we’re elated that the train has finally left the station.