August 14, 2020
Contact: FDC Communications
Secretary’s Message to Inmates and Offenders : FIND A SOLUTION
In an earlier message, I expressed my appreciation for each of you, and your family and friends, that take the time to write, share, advise, and even to complain and criticize. When I get complaints, I notice two groups of people. Some appear to only want to vent, often with rather harsh language. Others, after pointing out our agency shortcomings, offer thoughtful solutions. Though I do gain perspective from the first group, I appreciate more those who strive to find common ground and offer real solutions.
We know solutions are often tied to resources; basically people, money, and facilities. Last Fall, when we worked on our agency’s budget request for this year, I showed our legislators FDC’s needs and proposed resourcing and policy solutions. The Legislature responded positively and when Governor DeSantis signed the State’s budget and the Inmate Welfare Trust Fund legislation in June, we received a very solid budget to improve this agency. The good challenge we now have is to apply those resources to our most important needs. Over the coming months, Deputy Secretary Dixon and I will share some solutions we have planned for this year and next, even as we personally and the Agency recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
But there is one area where I need and want your help now. And though money, people and facilities can help, at its core, it is not necessarily about resources, but choices. We need a solution for violence.
Let’s be blunt, some of you have chosen to continue a criminal lifestyle in prison or on probation. You use violence to enforce your position and game. Others appear unwilling or unable to control emotions, and resort to violence to address perceived or actual offenses. Some bring new victims to the brink of death and administer life-long scars, both physical and emotional, with no justification. Some commit murder. I don’t have to give you the stats; you see it.
But I also see a greater number of you who want nothing to do with violence, even if violence was once prevalent in your life. Others of you feel trapped and just do not know how to break free of your earlier decisions, addictions, emotions, and associations to live a more honorable life.
The level of violence in our system is a complex challenge and it is very difficult to fully understand all its contributing factors. With a greater understanding of the contributing factors, and I want to hear from you about what you think those are, I believe we can bend the curve downward on the level of violence in the system. I think we (you, the FDC staff, and volunteers) can turn this around. I believe we can fix it, so let’s fix it!
For this message, let me open the dialogue with you to encourage you to send your thoughts and observations about what contributes to the current level of violence, and potential solutions to this scourge. I want to hear from you.
More immediate, I want to ask for your help first with just one program we are designing to address violence against new short-sentenced inmates. We will start a program this year for most of the 7,000 inmates that annually come into our system for less than a year. You know this group. They came to your dorm five months ago, never really fit in, were probably manipulated by some, perhaps assaulted by others, and have already left the prison with the worse experience of their life. More than half unfortunately will come back after reoffending, for much longer sentences. Maybe this is your story.
Instead of sending these novice inmates to your dorm, we are going to take a different approach. We are going to hold them at our reception centers (or other locations) for their entire sentence, separate from longer-term general population. We will design and provide education and mentorship programs specifically focused on this group to get them back home on the right track, hopefully never to return. Here’s my question. What should we teach, what should this mentorship program look like, and who should be their mentors?
I wouldn’t be asking these questions if we had not already concluded that the best solution, the best program, will come with your participation. Many of us believe that there is a core group of long-term or life-sentenced men and women, that have learned some of life’s hardest lessons. This group has many that, in their heart, now have a sincere desire to help others. We believe, if given the opportunity, that enough of you will step forward to help build this program and serve as mentors for this challenging group of young inmates cycling through our system.
Are you someone that would want to be a part of creating and taking part in this solution? If so, contact your classification officer and let them know your interest. Give them something in writing explaining why you would want to be part of the solution, and what you have to offer. You will also need the endorsement of your warden. We will initially select 8 men and 2 women to be part of our design team, working with FDC staff from our Institutions leadership, and Program and Re-entry Division. As we get a better idea on the required size of the inmate mentorship cadre, and select those candidates, these first ten men and women will help design the training program for the mentors and will be key in training the mentorship cadre and getting this program up and running.
TODAY, are there ten of you that will step forward to help design this program for short-sentenced inmates? TODAY, are there perhaps one hundred of you that will raise your hand to serve as mentors and share your life’s lessons to these young men and women, showing them a better future? TODAY, are there perhaps one thousand of you that have really thought about our challenges with violence and victimization, and will pull out pen and paper to forward ideas and solutions to me on how to disrupt and marginalize those still committed to criminal activity? Do you have solutions on how we can approach and bring change to those predators, that perhaps do not know how to change the present course in their lives? Can we build a realistic path for redemption and a second chance for all those willing to take the first step away from violence?
Today I only focused one program idea; we have others. But my ears are open to hear from you about how to create more programs, and to give you more opportunity to be part of the solution against violence.
As Florida's largest state agency, and the third largest state prison system in the country, FDC employs 24,000 members, incarcerates 80,000 inmates and supervises nearly 146,000 offenders in the community.