Letters to the Editors
Corrections system actively seeking reform
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 23, 2001
Re: Corrections reform, editorial, May 17.
The correctional environment is unique; it is one in which hard-working men and women are expected to be "their brother's keeper." They stand face to face with the most violent of society's offenders -- without weapons. These are my employees, and I am very proud of them.
I understand the rigors of this environment. Having myself served as a correctional officer, I have no tolerance for those who might take advantage of the correctional system. The Florida Department of Corrections has a "zero tolerance" for misconduct -- whether by those who uphold the correctional system or by those against whom it must be upheld.
During my tenure as corrections secretary, I have instituted sweeping changes within the system that have generated highly positive results -- results that are entirely ignored in your editorial.
Under my direction, significant changes have been made in the department's inspector general's office. One of my main missions was to raise the standards of the department's institutional inspectors and to improve the overall quality of investigations. This agency has now recruited and trained one-third of its staff to become law-enforcement certified, thereby raising both the knowledge base and professionalism of the department's investigative force. I ordered that institutional inspectors stop reporting to wardens and instead report directly to the inspector general, thereby centralizing investigations. This has increased uniformity and efficiency of the investigative process.
In your editorial, you mentioned the late Capt. Willie Hogan's personal diaries. When the allegations at Lancaster Correctional Institution came to my attention, I immediately ordered a team of DOC inspectors to that institution. A dozen inspectors interviewed 347 prison employees. I also sent another team to investigate allegations of racial discrimination. Both investigations were exhaustive, and each determined that no misconduct or discrimination had occurred. We interviewed Capt. Hogan during those investigations, and he stated verbally and in writing that he did not have any personal knowledge of inmate abuse. My staff provided a copy of that statement to Times reporter Adam Smith. Smith was also provided a copy of our personnel rules, which state that "No employee shall refuse to truthfully answer questions specifically relating to the performance of his or her official duties," and a copy of the internal investigation that was completed. Your editorial fails to mention that you are aware of the existence of this information. That is blatantly irresponsible.
Even though I cannot comment on pending litigation, I believe if you actually look into the class-action lawsuit mentioned in your editorial, you will see that all allegations raised therein preceded my being appointed secretary. This does not, however, relieve this agency from instituting appropriate reform -- a goal toward which we have been working.
After I was appointed secretary, I established an Equal Employment Opportunity Investigative Unit within the Bureau of Personnel to conduct investigations of complaints. As soon as the allegations of this lawsuit were brought to my attention, I immediately ordered our EEOIU to Tomoka Correctional Institution, Marion Correctional Institution, Lake Correctional Institution and North Florida Reception Center. I asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to handle the investigation into allegations of criminal misconduct at North Florida Reception Center to provide "objective scrutiny" from an outside agency.
Regretfully, I must agree with your statement that we have "a recruitment and retention problem." DOC employees put their lives on the line every day, working in prisons for pay that will never compensate them for the risks they face. We are fortunate that the governor and the Legislature have provided a 4.5 percent pay raise for correctional officers and correctional probation officers.
This agency has approximately 27,000 employees, and the vast majority are honest and hard-working individuals who do their jobs professionally and with integrity. Prisons are dangerous and volatile. Incidents occur every day, and it is the correctional officer who must intervene to prevent injury.
The inmate's most powerful weapon is to allege abuse. Many inmates use the courts for the same purpose. We take these complaints seriously and respond to each and every one.
Our department is one of the few in the nation fully accredited by the American Correctional Association. We are reviewed by many outside agencies. We are proud of what we do, and we are correctional officers -- not guards.
Taxation a matter of right and wrong
Re: McKay on tax reform, editorial, May 18.
Just about everyone agrees that Florida's tax system is a mess, but virtually no one -- certainly not our lawmakers -- seems able to agree on how to clean up the mess.
You (and Sen. John McKay) suggest eliminating many of the special interest sales-tax exemptions and extending the sales tax to professional services. This would be a reasonable first step. But it would also increase the state's reliance on the regressive sales tax as a principal source of funding government services.
I was greatly disappointed to see your comment that "No one is seriously suggesting an income tax, which the state Constitution forbids anyway." Your paper, which is not known for backing away from issues of right and wrong, has been supportive of a graduated individual income tax. Is this a change in position? I hope not. Make no mistake -- the income tax is not merely a "sensitive political issue" adamantly opposed by majority opinion. It is an issue of right or wrong, and the majority opinion is wrong.
It is wrong to fund state services almost entirely with the regressive sales tax which is, to a large extent, paid by tourists and riddled with 221 exemptions. The property tax is also riddled with special interest exemptions as well as the homeowners' exemptions. It is wrong for a state with a growing population and economy to be ranked among the worst providers of governmental services, and especially wrong for its per-capita expenditures on education to be among the lowest in the nation.
An income tax -- revenues from which would grow along with Florida's economy -- is needed to provide tax-structure balance as well as funding potential for services to an expanding population. Don't back off. Keep the politicians' feet to the fire on this vital issue!
Why McVeigh must be executed
Re: He's not an enigma, but a murderer, May 15.
Ellen Goodman discusses the efforts to understand Timothy McVeigh but concludes that "This man is not an enigma. He's a murderer." Actually, he is worse than that. He is a mass murderer. What should we do with mass murderers?
In her book Eichmann in Jerusalem (Viking Press, 1963), Hannah Arendt wrestled with the justifications for the trial and execution of another mass killer. In her epilogue she wrote:
"... Foremost among the larger issues at stake in the Eichmann trial was the assumption current in all modern legal systems that intent to do wrong is necessary for the commission of a crime. On nothing, perhaps, has civilized jurisprudence prided itself more than on this taking into account of the subjective factor. Where this intent is absent, where, for whatever reasons, even reasons of moral insanity, the ability to distinguish between right and wrong is impaired, we feel that no crime has been committed. We refuse, and consider as barbaric, the propositions "that a great crime offends nature, so that the very earth cries out for vengeance; that evil violates a natural harmony which only retribution can restore; that a wronged collectivity owes a duty to the moral order to punish the criminal' (Yosal Rogat). And yet I think it is undeniable that it was precisely on the ground of these long-forgotten propositions that Eichmann was brought to justice to begin with, and that they were, in fact, the supreme justification for the death penalty... "
Many Israelis wrestled with the idea of imposing the death penalty, even for someone like Eichmann. Arendt proposed the following justification:
"... no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you. This is the reason, and the only reason, you must hang."
I submit it is also the reason that Timothy McVeigh must be executed.
Make the killers listen
Re: An end in sight, May 20.
One of the common themes in your story about the various people that have witnessed executions is that the killer often does not want to look at the family members. Well.
I'd suggest something like this: The family witnesses choose one member to go into the execution chamber after the condemned man is strapped down. This person gets a couple of minutes to make a statement to the killer. He may not want to look at the family members, but he can be made to listen to them.
I suppose some would go the "we forgive you" route, but most would take some sort of "you are getting off too easy" route.
Being reasonable can help
Mary Jo Melone's column of May 13, Tending an endangered garden gives her strength, presented an appeal for compassion from people who run condo boards. I am currently the president of the Pointe West condo board in New Port Richy and I write this after a two-hour board meeting that discussed many problems.
A few years ago, our condo reviewed and rewrote our uniform rules and regulations, which were then approved by our residents. The book that we bought and used to help us make (hopefully) intelligent, fair and compassionate rules is called Be Reasonable, by Kenneth Budd. It's short, extremely, readable and full of common sense.
Condo boards everywhere, try it, you may like it, and Mary Jo Melone may write a column that condo boards can be compassionate.
PFLAG in Pinellas
Re: Gay: Is that me? May 14.
This was a most informative and honest scenario of what it is like for our young people to come to the realization that they are gay. However, the "Author's Note" neglected to give full information since the phone number for PFLAG Pinellas was omitted. The Web site listed is for PFLAG Pinellas but the telephone number for further information for our chapter is (727) 345-7688 or (727) 821-2140. It is important for your readers to know that there is a chapter here in Pinellas County.
Currently PFLAG in Pinellas County has 111 members. We meet the second and fourth Saturday of every month and our meetings are all confidential. PFLAG Pinellas provides support and education along with informative literature that has helped many of our members.
If you are gay or have a friend or family member who is gay, or merely want to become better educated on human sexuality, PFLAG Pinellas offers a unique opportunity. I appreciate the article in the Times and also your help in getting the correct information to your readers.
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