November 24, 2021
Contact: FDC Communications
Last month I visited Franklin CI. During the visit, I dropped in on a Peer-to-Peer dorm and talked with the men for about 45 minutes. It was a good exchange of ideas and observations about the program, but soon moved to matters of criminal justice reform. This shift of topic from local institutional issues to broader state and federal criminal justice policy is a rather common occurrence during my dorm visits. Recommendations about criminal justice policy are a common theme in the letters you send me.
In a message I wrote you almost two years ago, titled “Find Hope,” I said:
You are at the center of an intense national debate. Leaders, legislators, legal and law enforcement professionals, professors, community organizers, executives from private organizations and major corporations are all talking about you. And if the number of emails I get is any indicator, many of your family members are focused on you as well. That focus means something very important and sure beats the alternative of apathy and indifference. There is real effort, expanding effort, to understand your needs and prepare you for your success as a returning citizen or to help you while under supervision. Real efforts are being made to help give you a second chance.
This statement was true then and couldn’t be truer today. I hope you notice the increased regularity of visits by the many legislators that take time to come to our institutions and probation offices to understand our issues and needs. These are your Senators and Representatives. Do you know them? Do you write to them? If I were to ask who is your hometown Senator or Representative, could you tell me their names? I know mine, and you should know yours.
Let me introduce you to my hometown Representative, Representative Brad Drake, and the Senator from Alachua County, Senator Keith Perry. Why should you want to know of them? This session, they have introduced legislation on our behalf. The House and Senate bills I am following most closely this session come from them: HB 433/SB 636, State-Operated Institutions Inmate Welfare Trust Fund.
Two years ago, Representative Drake and Senator Jeff Brandes sponsored two bills that, after seventeen years, reestablished the Inmate Welfare Trust Fund. The bills gave us the ability to spend an additional $2.5 million annually for wellness programs and equipment. Both the House and Senate passed the bills unanimously!
This year, Representative Drake and Senator Perry seek to increase that annual spending from the Inmate Welfare Trust Fund up to $30 million!! The money is specifically for your wellness, quality of life and rehabilitation program opportunities. This is significant and important legislation and I pray the Legislature will adopt it.
As we approach Thanksgiving, there are times it is difficult to focus on our blessings. The challenges of today can hide and overwhelm the positive if we let it. But know you are not forgotten, the Governor and many legislators do seek to improve your quality of life with education, vocational training and other rehabilitation programs. I have not met a single Representative or Senator that does not want you to succeed upon release or thrive under community supervision. They are your hometown Representatives and Senators.
This year, I am thankful that Governor DeSantis gave me the opportunity and privilege to serve as your Secretary of Corrections for the last three years. I hope you feel the changes that have happened and the direction we are going, even as we fought a once-in-a-century pandemic together. And if you appreciate the direction our agency took over these past three years, please take hope in the fact that Governor DeSantis accepted my recommendation for Deputy Secretary Ricky Dixon to serve as my replacement. I have complete trust and confidence in Mr. Dixon and look forward to seeing how he leads FDC out of our current challenges. But after over forty years of public service, this is the right time for me to retire and it is the right time for Governor DeSantis to appoint Mr. Dixon as the new Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections.
Yet, this year, I am particularly thankful for Representative Drake and Senator Perry for their personal effort to advocate for wellness programs on your behalf, with filing and championing HB 433/SB 636. We will know if the bills pass late February or March, but given the Thanksgiving season, we can count our blessings and be thankful for leaders, citizens, volunteers and loved ones who do not forget those in prison and are willing to come visit. For those of my faith tradition, we are certainly told to do so...and I will continue to do so as a private citizen.
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.