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    If Jeb Bush ever really went to prison in Florida, he wouldn’t get a happy reception

    November 08, 2015
    By: Jack Strickland

    Jeb Bush made an interesting statement when he appeared recently on “Meet The Press” —NBC’s national Sunday television program. To emphasize his love for his father he said he would gladly go to prison for his dad. 

    That statement caught the attention of some of his former constituents. People familiar with Florida’s Department Of Corrections are quick to point out it would be smart for him to pick a state other than Florida should he decide to report for duty in the chain gang. Florida’s prison system is in a mess. Bush’s critics blame the mess on him. There has been one scandal after another since Jeb Bush tried to revamp the agency when he was Florida’s governor.

    When Bush took office as governor he appointed James W. Moore as the Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections. Moore was a product of the Texas prison system. Under the administration of then Texas Governor George Bush, Texas gained national attention as a tough on crime, no nonsense, law-and-order state. The Texas prison system was a cornerstone of the Texas judicial system.

    Jeb Bush wanted to bring that system to Florida.  The attempt to revamp Florida’s prisons backfired. The rank and file in the Department of Corrections balked at rebuilding Florida’s system using the Texas system as a model.

    The Florida correctional system had run smoothly since the 1960’s under the direction of Secretary Louie Wainwright and the team he trained. Career employees resisted making Bush’s changes. their philosophy was, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

    Secretary Moore brought his deputy, Michael D. Wolfe, to Florida with him. Together they got rid of career employees who had successfully guided Florida’s prisons for decades.

    Jeb Bush wanted to install a new system of privatized prisons. The idea was to make money for private businessmen. The goal was to get government out of prison facilities. Career state employees lost their retirement benefits and were given the option of quiting or working for the private companies who took over.

    Secretary Moore did not last long. Governor Bush replaced him with James V. Crosby. One of Crosby’s top lieutenants was Allen Wayne Clark. Together they championed the Bush plan to privatize all aspects of the prison system.

    Crosby and Clark were good at implementing the plan. They brought in private companies to take over. They developed a system where they got kickbacks from the vendors who were awarded state contracts in the new privatized system.

    Both pleaded guilty when their scheme was uncovered and documented. Crosby was sentenced to eight years in Federal prison. Clark served 31 months. Court records indicated Crosby and Clark received 40 percent of the gross sales of commissary items sold at Florida’s prisons. Prices were jacked up to compensate for paying the bribes and to give the vendors a high profit.

    The corruption seemed to permeate the entire department of corrections. Guard brutality was rampant. Prisoners were beaten to death. There seemed to be no accountability. The administration’s solution seemed to be to hunker down and keep the press at bay and away from prisons and prisoners. The philosophy exercised by the state was to keep prisons and prisoners out of sight and out of mind. What happened on the other side of the razor wire was not the business of the public.

    Since Bush was in office, two governors have been elected in Florida. Neither has regained stability in the Florida prison system. Secretaries of the Department of Corrections have come and gone like contestants in a game of musical chairs. No one has lasted long or been effective in bringing back the honor and stability of the Wainwright years.

    Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign might do better if he does not bring up the subject of prisons. If he should decide to volunteer to come to prison for his dad or anyone else, he might want to avoid the Florida Department of Corrections. There are lifers and prisoners with long sentences, and nothing to lose, who remember the Bush era in Florida and are continuing to pay a high price for it. They would not give Bush a warm reception should they find him sleeping in a prison bunk next to them.