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    State corrections chief optimistic about future

    The troubles of the prison system are abating, says Michael W. Moore. "It's a new day,'' he declares.

    By LUCY MORGAN

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published July 28, 2001


    TALLAHASSEE -- Michael W. Moore, the man in charge of running Florida's oft-maligned prison system, sat down to talk about his job Friday.

    It was an abrupt change for a man who has routinely dodged questions from reporters and recently sought the top prison job in Texas.

    "I like Florida," Moore said. "We've decided to remain as long as we're wanted."

    Moore's tenure as secretary at the Department of Corrections has been controversial and filled with problems and reports of low morale among the 26,000 employees.

    "It's a new day," Moore said.

    He said morale inside the 70,000-inmate prison system has improved during the past year and that he would visit prisons and talk to officers.

    Moore said he believes the culture of his system is changing.

    In July 1999, guards at Union Correctional Institution in North Florida were accused of beating inmate Frank Valdes to death. One guard, who never was charged in the death, is in protective custody to keep him from harm as he testifies against other guards. "I think there is a whole different attitude," Moore said. "Use of force reports have gone down."

    Moore and other top corrections officials said measures put in place after Valdes died include cameras that record every attempt to extract an inmate from a cell or any use of force.

    There is always peer pressure, Moore admits, but he thinks corrections officers have learned from mistakes and want accountability.

    He offered details of the expansion of faith-based dormitories now used at Tomoka Correctional Institution near Daytona Beach to other prisons.

    Inmates, on a voluntary basis, could move into a dorm where they receive religious counseling, parenting and other forms of assistance from volunteers who work under a prison chaplain.

    Moore said the program is not designed to funnel inmates into a particular religion, but to help inmates in the months before they return to society. Kairos, the company that provides volunteers to help inmates, finds "godparents" willing to establish relationships with inmates.

    Eighty percent of the inmates who participate in the program are within three years of being released. The program is expanding to include institutions in Hillsborough, Marion, Wakulla, Gulf and Miami-Dade counties.

    The prisons also have a new contract with Ford Motor Co., which will spend $600,000 to establish a program to teach light mechanical repair work to inmates.

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    From the Times state desk