New DOC chief builds morale
Published: Saturday, February 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 1, 2003 at 1:50 a.m.
RAIFORD - Correctional officers went out of their way to congratulate and shake hands with recently appointed Department of Corrections Secretary James Crosby when he toured Florida State Prison on Friday morning.
"You just don't know how much better things have gotten here already," said one veteran officer who preferred not to be named. "We feel like everybody all the way up to Tallahassee is finally on the same page about how things should be done."
Crosby was back in North Central Florida to confer with others in Region II, the region he was a director of immediately before his promotion. The top boss of prisons is deciding how to implement how things are done in District 2 in the entire state prison system, particularly methods of gauging morale and finding solutions to problems.
"I don't want to lose finding out what is wrong with the heartbeat of the staff," Crosby told some of the top officials in the region.
Crosby replaced Michael Moore, who resigned after four tumultuous years of legislatively mandated budget cuts, procedural changes and departmental directives that officers complained put responsibility on the shoulders of employees without giving them corresponding authority.
The secretary's prison tour signaled a sea-change to at least a few FSP officers.
"I've worked here for a long time and if the big boss (department secretary) never comes by, there is no way he can know what is going on," said an officer who also was reluctant to be identified "because you don't want to seem like you are sucking up to the higher ups."
Changing status quo
Crosby spent the most time on Friday establishing communications that would move both up and down the prison hierarchy.
One of his directives was that a warden or two from each of the state's four prison regions be invited to participate in meetings that previously only included region directors and the secretary. His rationale was that wardens have their own informal network and he wants to take advantage of that to get information out, have proposed solutions get back to him directly and to quickly get reaction to proposed changes.
"We don't want any hidden agendas," Crosby said.
Crosby also was concerned about morale and problem solving.
"What I've learned in the prison system is that when things go wrong it is usually because there is a system problem, not because of poor performance," Crosby said.
Next week's meeting with regional directors and wardens will include instructions on how to randomly select officers at each prison who will be given time during their shifts to complete confidential surveys on a regular basis. Survey results are expected to show places where there are systemic problems - for example every prison in a region struggling to get enough uniforms for inmates - or isolated problems like chronic plumbing problems in a single prison.
"Once we know what the problems are, we can fix them, but we need to get an accurate idea of what we are working with first and if it is just one prison, just one region or the whole state," Crosby said.
The scope of Crosby's responsibility is about to get bigger.
The prison system is operating at about 98 percent capacity with about 350 prison beds remaining available. Within a year, Gov. Jeb Bush has committed to developing 4,000 new beds.
Plans call for opening a new prison in Franklin County, re-opening existing dormitories in Hendry County, building an annex in Columbia County and building individual dormitories at other prisons around the state.
"That means more employees and more inmates and more potential for problems," Crosby said. "Prisons by nature are resistant to change, but we have to continue to change because the world is changing."
Among the immediate changes expected under Crosby's administration is some decentralization.
Many rank and file officers were perturbed when Moore moved personnel specialists out of prisons and into regional offices and then a few months later moved many of the responsibilities to Tallahassee.
"Neither extreme - all centralized or none centralized - is right," Crosby said. "Things like centralized purchasing work just fine and save you money, but when it comes to people issues, you need to have people involved."
Crosby's staff is developing a plan to move many personnel functions back to the prisons. As an example, Crosby mentioned that some employees are fine sitting alone with a computer to deal with insurance matters, but others do better dealing with someone face-to-face.
"We know that one manager can do many things, so we are looking at things like having an assistant warden at each institution get specialized training to handle some of these personnel issues," Crosby said.
Karen Voyles can be reached at (352) 486-5058 or email@example.com.
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