A “deficient” backup system was in place when nearly two years of Florida Department of Correction’s public emails were destroyed, according to an inspector general’s report published in August 2013.
The destruction of public records was first reported by the Tribune-Scripps Capital Bureau in October. The department said all emails from January 2007 through September 2008 were destroyed during a 2012 attempt to “fix a hardware problem” by the Southwood Shared Resource Center, a state-owned data center that houses information for state departments and agencies.
That admission came after department officials told a reporter for roughly one year that they had been processing a public records request related to emails that were destroyed during the hardware maintenance. The initial records request was filed in October 2013.
“Your records request is still being processed,” said Jessica Cary, a department spokeswoman, in a July email.
Two months later, not much had changed.
“I understand your frustration. I’ve personally met with our IT director to expedite your request,” Cary, who was not the department’s communications director at the time of the original request, wrote in a September email.
Despite assurance the records request were being processed, records show the department knew the requested emails were destroyed on March 19, 2012, the same day it occurred. That’s nearly 20 months before the public records request was filed.
In an August email, Cary sought a mailing address to respond to the records request. The agency’s letter arrived more than two months after that email exchange.
In a statement released Monday, Interim Secretary Timothy Cannon said the response time was “unacceptable.”
“We are currently identifying technological and personnel solutions to expedite the public records process,” he wrote.
In response to follow up questions specifically about why the department waited one year to tell the reporter, a spokesman said “no wool was pulled over anyone’s eyes, no one was lied to,” and pointed out that no member of the department’s communications team was employed by the department at the time of the 2012 data destruction.
The department’s inspector general’s office was called into review the issue and determined that officials were “unable to present any documentation detailing its compliance” with the administrative rules that govern the backup of public records.
The report found that the department lacked “general IT controls, such as restoration procedures, restoration testing, expiration of backup media, and applicability to other policies.”
There were frantic attempts to restore the emails, including a never-executed plan to ship hardware to a California data restoration company that would have cost roughly $3,500.
“At this point I concur that recovery of the data is highly unlikely, and I am not sure it would be in the best interest of the taxpayers,” Doug Smith, the department’s chief information officer, wrote in an April 25, 2012 email to Robert Poston with the Southwood Shared Resource Center.
In an Oct. 14 memo, written more than one year after the inspector general’s report was released and after Tribune-Scripps reported the destruction of the emails, Smith said the blame lies with the Southwood Shared Resource Center.
“We could not have performed (maintenance) … even if we desired as we no longer had physical access,” he wrote to Mike Dew, who serves as the secretary’s chief-of-staff.
Tasked with the difficult job of overseeing state prisons, the department has long faced scrutiny and public criticism. Over the past few months, however, it has been under an unusually bright light after a spate of prisoner deaths.
As a result, 32 prison guards were fired in September and then-DOC Secretary Michael Crews admitted that there was a “lack of consistent consequences” for prison staff who committed crimes.
In addition, the department is undergoing a leadership change. Cannon was put took his current post in November after Crews resigned his post as Gov. Rick Scott’s prisons chief. He is serving on an interim basis while Scott looks for a new secretary.