With Florida Gov. Rick Scott in a re-election campaign last year, Mike Crews, then-secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections, was in the thick of a public firestorm over allegations that a mentally ill inmate had died in a scalding shower as part of a punishment ritual by corrections officers. Crews tells the Miami Herald he was told to “take a bullet for the governor” by firing people Crews didn't believe should fired. He says the governor’s office wrote press releases that said things he didn't say, and orchestrated hastily arranged news conferences that were little more than smokescreens designed to distract from the real crisis that Crews was sounding the alarm on for years: Florida's prisons were so run down and understaffed that they had become dangerous.
Crews saw the prison system cut so many corrections officers that overtime had ballooned to $2.9 million a month. Institutions were so deteriorated that electrical, plumbing and security systems were constantly failing. Staffing levels were so dangerously low that some institutions weren't able to keep count of inmates. The agency's trucks, buses and vans had so many miles on them that he worried they would break down on highways and convicts would escape. Contraband smuggling had become so lucrative that rank-and-file guards made more money selling $200 packs of cigarettes than they would if they were promoted to a $38,000-a-year lieutenant's post. Crews said it was hardly surprising to him that inmate deaths were rising, since instances involving use-of-force had doubled, attacks on corrections officers had increased, and guards were finding themselves unable to control a prison population that had grown while staffing had been slashed.