June 12, 2014

Just another day at Dade Correctional Institution - An op-ed in response to the Miami Herald reporter Julie Brown's latest article entitled, "2 years later, Florida keeps lid on prison death details."

Just another day at Dade Correctional Institution

Having worked as a counselor in the very same psychiatric unit where Darren Rainey was killed, I can personally attest to the cover-up mentality of the Florida Department of Corrections. Many inmates on my caseload filed months and months of grievances regarding abusive behavior by guards that were never addressed. In a beating incident I refused to stay silent about, guards employed a rather sinister strategy to pressure a staffer to back off.

In an eerie coincidence, on June 23, 2011, a year to the day before Rainey was killed, an inmate named Joseph Swilling was handcuffed behind his back and briskly escorted to a hallway to meet his fate. Out of sight from cameras, he was thrown to the concrete floor and kicked repeatedly by correctional officers. The beating would have continued unchecked if not for the timely intervention of my coworker who pounded on the window while yelling, "Stop! Stop! Stop!"

Out of fear of retaliation, this coworker wrote on the Incident Report that he/she did not see anything. As counselors, guards escorted us into sessions with violent inmates, some of whom were mentally unbalanced. Guards were required to monitor the session through large windows. Any counselor who incurred the wrath of COs would be left without security. The strategy of the guards was to simply leave the counselor alone with the inmate. One counselor I know of resigned believing her life was in danger. As a result, most counselors stayed silent even after witnessing multiple instances of abuse, torment, and beating.

Given the documented failures of the DOC on many levels, it is essential that an independent agency be established with a mandate to provide transparency. This agency would be charged with at least three major duties:

1.      Investigation of Incident Reports, Inmate Grievances, and any other documentation of abusive behavior of guards by onsite investigators. Immediately interview all witnesses.
2.      Collection and processing of all inmate grievances
3.      Install, maintain, and monitor all cameras. Replace all outdated cameras and recording devices with High Definition or HD equipment.

Ideally, the agency would be given the power to make arrests when warranted. As it stands now, the DOC only fires guards who are caught on camera - even when they have badly beaten an inmate. Grievances are often hijacked by guards who in turn taunt the aggrieved inmate. In my tenure, the cameras were often broken and the recordings grainy to the point of being useless.  

The Florida DOC, like many large organizations, cannot be trusted to regulate themselves. It is time they get pulled into the new millennium - dragged kicking and screaming if need be. After all, that is what the DOC understands.

By George Mallinckrodt – I’m the only mental health staffer to come out publicly in Julie Brown’s second article entitled, “Former workers describe 'chronic' torture.” I’ve just finished a nearly two year project started in response to Darren Rainey’s killing. It is a book called, “Getting Away With Murder.” It will be published by August 1, 2014

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George Mallinckrodt