Florida’s Department of Corrections, plagued by suspicious inmate deaths and allegations of corruption and systemic abuse, has a new secretary.
Gov. Rick Scott announced the appointment of Julie Jones to run the prison system, the nation’s third largest, effective Jan. 5.
Jones, former head of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, has no background in corrections, but has had a “distinguished career working with our state’s law enforcement community for over 30 years,” Scott said in making the announcement.
“It is evident through her work across state government that she is a true reformer who is laser-focused on ensuring accountability and transparency,” Scott said. “I am confident Julie will be an effective leader at DOC and make sure the agency is run with accountability and integrity.”
In a release issued by the governor’s office, Jones said, “I am honored to be appointed by Gov. Scott to lead DOC. My top priority is to make sure Florida is the safest state in the nation to raise a family and I look forward to working with stakeholders and our entire law enforcement community to meet that goal. I am also focused on making sure offenders are able to integrate back into their communities when they are released so they have the chance to get a job and build a meaningful career. It is my commitment to build a strong culture of ethics at DOC to ensure transparency for all Floridians.”
Before heading Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles from 2009 to 2014, Jones spent 26 years at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, where she was a sworn officer and served in a variety of roles, including director of law enforcement. She will be the first woman to head the Department of Corrections.
Jones takes over for Michael Crews, who retired this month after enduring nearly a year of news reports about suspicious deaths, including the case of Darren Rainey, a mentally ill inmate at Dade Correctional Institution who was locked into a closet-like shower and sprayed with scalding water for nearly two hours as punishment for defecating on the floor or his cell.
Rainey, 50, collapsed and died. After the circumstances of Rainey’s death and other suspicious cases were reported in the Miami Herald, Crews instituted a series of reforms and unveiled an “inmate mortality database on the department’s website.
The department is likely to have a record number of inmate deaths in 2014.