- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 1, 2015

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - An independent commission would be appointed to investigate prison corruption, safety and prisoner deaths, and the governor would lose sole control of picking a corrections secretary under a bill overwhelmingly passed by the Senate on Wednesday.

The 55 page bill (SB 7020) seeks to address prison system problems that have been highlighted by suspicious deaths and allegations of cover-ups. It passed 36-1, and several Democrats highly praised Republican sponsor Sen. Greg Evers for shepherding the legislation.

“I hope and trust and believe that this reform effort will reap great benefits,” said Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner of Tampa. “We’ve had too many questionable deaths in our prisons, and I really hope this is the beginning of the end of our crisis.

The commission would be able to conduct surprise inspections, confidentially interview any prisoner or employee and could investigate allegations of corruptions or violence against prisoners, either by guards or other inmates. It would also make safety recommendations.

The bill, which will now go to the House, also would require the Corrections secretary be appointed by the governor and three-member Cabinet. Right now, the governor alone appoints the Corrections secretary.

And prison security audits would have to identify blind spots where cameras or audio equipment should be installed.

The governor would pick eight of the nine members of the commission from lists provided to him by House and Senate majority and minority leaders. The governor would choose the final member on his own.

Florida’s often-criticized prison system is one of the nation’s largest and houses roughly 100,000 inmates. But increases in the use of force against inmates, as well as allegations about cover-ups of questionable inmate deaths, have tarnished the agency.

That includes Randall Jordan-Aparo, who died at Franklin Correctional Institution in 2010. He was reportedly gassed while in a confinement cell. Darren Rainely, a mentally ill prisoner, died at Dade Correctional in 2012 after being punished with a shower so hot that his skin separated from his body.


Follow Brendan Farrington on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bsfarrington

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