Thursday, January 24, 2008

Editorial: McDonough's legacy

It really is remarkable what Department of Corrections Secretary Jim McDonough has accomplished in less than two years as Florida's prison chief.

Appointed by former Gov. Jeb Bush in February 2006, the decorated retired Army colonel inherited a department wracked by scandal, corruption and incompetence that reached its highest levels. McDonough's predecessor, James Crosby, went to prison for taking kickbacks from contractors.

The malfeasance didn't stop there. DOC officials were indicted or fired for a long list of misdeeds, including public brawls, handing out fake DOC IDs to friends and family, using and distributing steroids, theft, wanton inmate beatings, and, remarkably, taking payoffs totaling more than $1 million from hundreds of inmates' families to facilitate transfers to more desirable prisons.

There was a culture of corruption that permeated the agency, and it started at the top.

Using hard-nosed, by-the-book management tactics, McDonough waged what he often called a "culture war" to try to clean up the DOC. The casualties of that war were dozens of corrupt or incompetent prison officials, including wardens and assistant wardens.

As McDonough cleaned house, though, he never forgot to praise the vast majority of DOC's employees for being decent and hard-working credits to the department. That, however, didn't stop him from occasionally ruffling their feathers, as well, by instituting loyalty oaths, random drug tests and minimum physical fitness requirements.

McDonough has submitted his resignation, effective at month's end. He is being replaced by Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Walter McNeil, a former Tallahassee police chief.

Floridians should be grateful to McDonough. He took the reins of the state's largest agency, with 95,000 inmates, 150,000 probationers, 28,000 employees and $2.2 billion budget, at a tumultuous time and changed a culture in a very short time.

McDonough's legacy is a rehabilitated DOC, one in which the people of Florida can once again have confidence and pride.

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