After a five-month review, Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones on Friday decided that she would not bring in any new blood to her leadership team and gave promotions or new assignments to 14 current prison officials at the troubled agency.
The announcement comes after Jones asked the 12 top officials in charge of prisons and probation to reapply for their jobs in August as part of a major realignment designed to centralize power at the agency and create a fourth region overseeing prisons.
As part of the exercise, Jones accepted 71 applications for the three existing regional director of institutions jobs and the open post at the newly added fourth region. She then narrowed the list to 17, including a handful of outsiders. On Friday, Jones announced she had decided to reassign several of the current officials to similar jobs, give others promotions and leave others in place.
“These men and women have demonstrated courage, accountability, leadership, professionalism and a strong commitment to the future of this agency,” Jones said in a memo to staff. “I am confident that this team will help to guide our department as we take action to restore our place as the nation’s leader in correctional policy and practice.”
Samuel Culpepper, currently the director of institutions for Region 1, will become regional director for the new Region 2, based in Jacksonville. Eric Lane, currently the regional director of institutions for Region 2, will become regional director for the new Region 1, based in north central Florida. Brian Reidl, regional warden for Region 2, was promoted to regional director of institutions in Region 3. And Thomas Reid, warden at Suwannee Correctional Institution, will become director of institutions for Region 4.
Among those rejected: James Dzurenda, deputy commissioner for the New York City Department of Correction, and Salvador “Tony” Godinez, former head of the Illinois prison system, who retired in March after a new governor was elected. Earlier this week, Randy Tifft, current director of institutions for Region 3, based in South Florida, announced his retirement.
Many of those reappointed have been in charge of institutions during one of the most brutal periods in Florida prison history as the number of inmates who died reached record numbers, use of force was at a five-year high. For the past two years, the Miami Herald has chronicled the stories of deadly abuse in Florida’s prisons, as well as staff cover-ups and intimidation tactics used to quiet complaints by inmates and prison officials.
Reid, for example, was warden at Charlotte Correctional Institution in April 2014 when inmate Matthew Walker died during a violent cell extraction. A state grand jury later said it could not pursue charges because officers discarded evidence and gave conflicting testimony.
Among those rejected were James Dzurenda, deputy commissioner for the New York City Department of Correction, and Salvador “Tony” Godinez, former head of the Illinois prison system, who retired in March after a new governor was elected.
In North Florida, Culpepper was regional director of Region 1 and Rodney Tomlinson, who has been reappointed assistant regional director, were in charge when five corrections officers beat a handcuffed and shackled Jeremiah Tatum, 31, in August 2014. A captain, James Kirkland, and four officers, were charged and Kirkland later committed suicide. The department said regional leadership “worked collaboratively with law enforcement to bring action against the officers involved in this incident.”
Agency spokesman McKinley Lewis said that while veterans were chosen, the reassignments are “shaking things up a little.”
“Everybody got a fair shake,”' he said, noting that the review included every applicant's employment history, “what they've done, what they believe to be the right direction for the department, what their management style is. And the secretary made a decision based on those interviews. She made a decision that was going to be what's best for the department.”
In May, Gov. Rick Scott issued an executive order directing the department to increase accountability by tightening regulations relating to the use of force, protecting employees from retaliation when they report wrongdoing, and improving the tracking of chemical agents used to subdue disruptive inmates.
Mary Ellen Klas: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @MaryEllenKlas