Thursday, April 7, 2011

New prisons chief making big changes in prison system

Gov. Rick Scott promised to shake things up, and nobody on his new team is pushing more change more quickly than Buss, a 45-year-old U.S. Army veteran who most recently ran Indiana’s prisons.

In hyper-partisan Tallahassee, Buss is receiving the highest compliment of all: high praise even from some Democrats who despise most of Scott’s policies. On the job for just six weeks, Buss has:

• Called for a major new financial commitment to helping prison inmates reenter society so they can start new lives and become less likely to return to prison.

• Fired more than a dozen highly paid administrators and proposed a 5 percent pay cut for all wardens and the privatization of all prison healthcare programs.

• Banned smoking by an estimated 60,000 inmates after voicing shock that prisons were still not smoke-free in 2011.

• Urged the Legislature to abolish mandatory minimum prison sentences in some cases, saying that judges should be given more discretion and that some people may be in prison who don’t belong there.

• Proposed that correctional officers switch from eight-hour days to 12-hour shifts to cut down on commuting costs and give more officers more weekends off.

• Suggested closing three prisons to cut costs and improve efficiency, including shutting the only faith-based prison for women in Tampa.

For Buss, it has not been entirely a smooth start.

The Senate quickly rejected a plan to pay for new inmate reentry programs by laying off more than 600 correctional officers, and a vast network of volunteers and ex-inmates have for now blocked plans to close Hillsborough Correctional Institution, a women’s faith-based prison with a low recidivism rate and a high number of success stories.

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