Florida ex-prisons chief Julie Jones has withdrawn from a similar job in New Mexico before ever assuming the post, citing personal reasons preventing her from relocating across the country.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat elected in November, announced on Jan. 31 that she had hired the former Florida corrections secretary to fill the Cabinet position, boasting about Jones’ “assertive, proactive leadership” during her tenure in Tallahassee.
But on Tuesday, Jones informed Lujan Grisham that, “with a heavy heart,” she declined the appointment.
“As you know, I had scheduled time off prior to starting my tenure as secretary. Since my return, there have been several unexpected personal issues in my life that prevent me from being able to move to New Mexico. You have a bold vision for your state and I truly regret not being a part of your team,” Jones wrote.
In a statement provided Wednesday morning to The News Service of Florida, Lujan Grisham, who made history as New Mexico’s first Hispanic woman to be elected governor, called Jones an excellent candidate for the post, which requires Senate confirmation.
“I’m sorry to see her withdraw her candidacy because I felt and feel she would have been exactly the keen-eyed, experienced leader the agency needs. But I respect and understand Julie’s decision and her privacy and wish her well. We have already re-opened our search and will be conducting interviews expeditiously,” Lujan Grisham said.
As New Mexico’s secretary of corrections, Jones would have overseen a prison system that’s just a fraction of the size of Florida’s system. The daily inmate population averages less than 7,000, and approximately 20,000 offenders are on supervision, compared to Florida’s 96,000 inmates behind bars and about 167,000 on supervision.
Jones led Florida’s corrections agency — the third-largest in the country — for four years after being appointed by former Gov. Rick Scott in January 2015. Before that, Jones had spent three decades in law enforcement at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
Scott, now a U.S. Senator, tapped Jones to head the Florida prison system as it was under intense scrutiny because of inmate deaths and alleged misconduct.
During her tenure, Jones was faced with an aging inmate population, crumbling infrastructure and prison-funding problems that, in the words of Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes, has been “festering for years.” Last year, the chronically strapped prison system was running about $80 million in the red.
A privatized prison health-care system also created problems for the state, with the corrections agency going through a series of companies in an attempt to provide services.
And Jones grappled with workforce issues such as high turnover and vacancies, launching an incentive program to lure workers to prisons.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who took office Jan. 8, replaced Jones with Mark Inch, a retired U.S. Army major general who also worked as director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
In an interview with the News Service of Florida after she accepted the New Mexico post last month, Jones laughed when asked if she had any trepidation about moving to the other side of the country.
“I did. I told the Governor that today, at the press conference. I said, no humidity. No trees. Totally different, but I am thrilled to be here. It’s a big move, but I still have more to give, and it’s an opportunity that was offered very graciously to me by the governor of New Mexico, so I took it,” she said at the time.
Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.