Miami-Dade prison riddled with problems, internal audits say
BY ANN CHOI
One month after the new warden took over at the troubled Dade Correctional Institution, Les Odom announced a series of upgrades designed to overhaul the state prison while addressing a number of “lapses” in proper management.
The list of upgrades, planned or already completed, range from replacing the air conditioning in the unit housing mentally ill inmates to better training the staff on how to keep track of the number of prisoners. The prison has had a problem conducting accurate counts and writing up incident reports when something goes wrong, according to a memo from Odom to his boss, Department of Corrections Secretary Michael Crews.
Odom said that audits of the prison south of Homestead found “lack of oversight and a culture of inattentiveness.”
The measures announced by Odom do not address the incident that has cast a harsh spotlight on the prison, spawned a criminal investigation and helped contribute to the firing of the last warden, Jerry Cummings. That was the 2012 death of Darren Rainey, a mentally ill inmate who was placed in a locked, closet-like, steaming hot shower until he collapsed and died some two hours later.
Inmates told the Miami Herald that the 50-year-old Rainey, serving a short stint for cocaine possession, had angered corrections officers by defecating in his cell and refusing to clean up the mess. The shower was used to punish him, as it had used on other inmates, they said.
No correctional officer involved in Rainey’s death has been charged criminally.
The memo, released to the Herald on Friday, deals more with housekeeping matters. According to the statement, all security equipment will be replaced by September; and broken sinks, toilets, showers and lights are being repaired, as well as the prison’s ventilation system.
Additionally, the memo says, the prison has hired a new food services director. Cummings and his top staff were suspended for one week in the spring because an inspection found unsanitary conditions and a bug infestation in the food area.
The memo goes on to say that a lack of documentation suggests that, in some cases, mandatory training for staff might not have happened. Also, officers have not properly filed internal reviews after a complaint or an event, potentially “leaving critical incidents unreported.”
It is not clear whether the shower death of Rainey is one of the unreported “critical incidents.” The department did not make Crews or Odom available to address questions.
The investigation into the treatment of Rainey has lingered for two years, in part because police treated it like a routine in-custody death. Investigators did not interview inmate witnesses until after the Herald wrote an article this spring divulging what happened.
Shortly after Rainey died, the Department of Corrections suspended its administrative investigation into the death until the Miami-Dade Police Department finished its probe, which is ongoing.
In his memo, Odom requested that further audits be conducted by an external team.
I had to laugh when I read they were finally going to fix the A/C in the Transitional Care Unit after nearly five years of stifling hot conditions that both staff and inmates endured. It was made worse by the fact that not one window in the entire unit could be opened. In fact, I had to bring my own fan to work.
Audits found a “lack of oversight and a culture of inattentiveness.” Translation: Dade Correctional Institution was a "lazy camp." The reputation state-wide among the inmates was that DCI was "sweet" due to the fact that security was lax and inmates could get away with much more. However, being a lazy camp was a double-edged sword for inmates housed in TCU. They could not get their basic needs met in a timely manner. Requests for toilet paper, soap, clean towels and sheets, to name a few, were routinely ignored and left for the next shift. Required by DOC rules, taking inmates out to Recreation was strictly optional as far as guards were concerned.
By the way, guards never had to clean up any mess an inmate made. That fell on the inmates like Mark Joiner who cleaned up Darren Rainey's skin from the shower stall where he died.
I find it equally amusing that it took a rash of newspaper articles and community pressure for the DOC to find the money to fix a host of problems such as "broken sinks, toilets, showers and lights." I'm concerned that "all security equipment will be replaced" means only the replacement of the cameras where they are now. This is grossly inadequate. The beating of inmate Joseph Swilling took place in a hallway were there were no cameras. Obviously all blind spots must be covered by new HD cameras and equipment.
Finally, training for the guards in dealing with the mentally ill was nonexistent. Neither I nor any of my coworkers heard of one instance of psychological training. The only "mandatory training" was the yearly, sleep inducing, week-long PowerPoint presentation that indirectly addressed inmate treatment with the viewing of the Timothy Joe Souders' prison video. In a Michigan prison suicide watch cell, Souders was left without sufficient water and medical treatment. He died four days later after being locked down on a steel bed in temperatures that exceeded 100 degrees.
Odom's "memo" cites a "lack of documentation" with regard to guards filing "internal reviews after a complaint or an event." The reason, quite simply, was that guards never implicated themselves in any wrongdoing. Even when reports were written, I found guards to be sinister yet capable fiction writers as evidenced by their cover-up of the Rainey death. To imply Rainey himself turned the water to its highest temperature was an insult to anybody with a modicum of intelligence. “Leaving critical incidents unreported” or producing "bogus" Disciplinary Reports against inmates were two of the many frustrations I faced as a counselor trying to make a difference. The guards' "routine procedure" was to slant any and all versions of events in their favor.