Dear Representatives and Committee Members,
I think all agree that something needs to be done about longstanding problems within the FL DOC. Those who minimize, downplay, or gloss over the plethora of abuses somehow hope the problem will go away. A problem can't be solved by pretending it doesn't exist. I would like to share with you the insights I gathered from my experience working as a psychotherapist in the psychiatric ward at the Dade Correctional Institution and later. Since I became active in prison reform, numerous individuals have contacted me describing the ongoing retaliation and abuse their loved ones suffer in prison.
All of the scrutiny from former Secretary Michael Crews and new Secretary Julie Jones have had no impact on guards who abuse and those who cover up their crimes. A few arrests here and there hardly scratch the surface. The odds of guards facing any consequences are minimal and they know it. Inmates cower in fear. Though I hope it doesn't come to pass, I predict uprisings in some of the prisons. Prison riots don't happen when men are treated with respect and by the book.
The strongest measures must be taken. Unfortunately, House Bill 7131 will not get the job done. I submit that 1731 be repopulated with all of the provisions in Senate Bill 7020 and then strengthened on top of it. There must be accountability and transparency. Imagine this scenario: Your committees comes back with a stronger bill than the Senate's. That would put the onus on them. To me, it seems better to negotiate from a position of strength rather than weakness. Consider how favorably the press would react. I for one am exhausted reading story after story detailing the DOC's inhumanities and atrocities.
Floridians need to know that men and women released by the DOC are better prepared to rejoin society than when they went in. Often this is not the case. In fact, a quick survey of Region 3 prisons reveals only half have any vocational programs at all. How can we expect former convicts to be productive members of society when they have been subjected to years of DOC abuse?
Please consider the recommendations that follow. I look forward to speaking with you on the phone or in person.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide an alternate perspective,
Solutions for the Florida Department of Corrections and the Office of the Inspector General
Changing the culture of corruption, retaliation, brutality, and secrecy that is at the core of the FL DOC and the OIG is the most critical task and should be given the highest priority. The following suggestions are geared toward loosening the grip of a minority of officers, administrators, and high-ranking DOC and Inspector General personnel that control the Department of Corrections.
This minority exerts power through intimidation and retaliation – loss of jobs, demotions, veiled threats and a host of strong arm tactics – they will resort to violence when necessary. From the newly hired guard to the 20-year veteran to experienced inspectors, this culture of abuse and cover-up is felt throughout the ranks of the DOC.
Keep in mind the DOC and the OIG have a poor track record of policing or regulating themselves. They cannot be trusted. We cannot expect this to change overnight. I recently asked a high ranking correctional union representative when the time would come when good officers would speak out against corrupt officers that tarnish their reputations. His reply, “It’s not time yet.” Maybe now is the time to clean house.
Retaliation is the glue that keeps this minority in power. Inmates would tell of abuses if they knew they were safe. Guards have figured out numberless ways of keeping inmates silent.
The stakes are high. Hundreds if not thousands of inmates a week are subjected to a range of relatively “minor” abuses that include: not being fed, being verbally abused, denied visitation, bogus disciplinary reports, having personal property stolen by guards, withholding/destroying personal mail, and unsealing legal mail. One person told me blankets and sheets were being withheld in brutally cold confinement cells where guards add to their sick pleasure by turning on floor fans to blast freezing men. The list of abuses grows with each mother, father, wife, and sister who contact me hoping I can help them keep their family members safe on the inside.
The fear of retaliation is strong and real for family members who want to speak out against the abuses guards heap upon their relatives incarcerated in the DOC. They rightly fear the “major” abuses we've all read about: beatings, torture, and murder. A week ago, someone told me their slightly built family member was purposefully put into a cell with a known sexual predator who outweighed him by 75 pounds. The man was knocked unconscious and raped. This retaliation will probably never come to light.
It is not enough to fire or prosecute a few guards who commit crimes against inmates. What about the men and women in "upper level management" who colluded to cover up their crimes. Many news articles have described how upper level management threatened retaliation if whistleblowers did not drop cases. Initiating deep investigations into the hierarchies of the DOC and OIG would send a message to good, honest, hardworking corrections personnel that a new day has arrived. Inmates, likewise, could trust their concerns will finally be heard.
The idea of oversight commissions in all three regions makes sense as they can respond more quickly to incidents and provide a regional presence. I would suggest regular meetings of Commission Chairs to maintain a consistent set of objectives in all three regions.
The following objectives could be folded into commission functions:
1. Install, maintain, and monitor all cameras. Replace all outdated cameras and recording devices with High Definition or HD equipment. The critical areas where there must be 100% coverage are places that inmates can be totally or partially isolated. Close Management, solitary, or confinement are these critical areas. The most egregious brutality happens in seclusion. Other isolated rooms and areas need coverage as well.
The DOC would monitor camera feeds at the prisons while data is collected and stored in Commission locations. DOC personnel have a history of sabotaging camera footage. In Darren Rainey's scalding death, footage showed him being put into the shower and then there was a mysterious "malfunction."
Commission personnel would monitor camera feeds remotely. In the event a camera malfunctions, repair crews from one of the three regions could be dispatched to make repairs. Monitors could also dispatch Commission personnel to locations that needed urgent attention.
Some thought should be given to the idea of body cameras for correctional officers who are in direct contact with inmates.
Having complete camera coverage is the strongest measure to control the behavior of abusers. Relocating abusers will not work. They will resume their abuse in the new prison. We can take a lesson from the Catholic church on this.
2. Conduct investigations into any and all claims of abuse as described by inmates, medical and mental health staff, clergy, and even guards themselves, while maintaining the confidentiality of these whistleblowers. Investigators would be charged with cataloging Incident Reports, Inmate Grievances, and any other documentation of abusive behavior of guards and their cover-ups. All witnesses would be immediately interviewed. Ideally, this investigative task force would be given the power to make arrests when warranted.
3. Collect and process all inmate grievances. This will prevent unscrupulous guards from hijacking the grievance process to hide their horrific behavior. A database should be compiled on abusive officers and their abuses. Inmates are our eyes and ears on the inside. When it comes to abuse, inmates' truth and accuracy hovers between 80 and 100 percent.
4. Collect, disseminate, and distribute all incoming and outgoing mail. As it stands now, regular mail, and indeed legal mail, is routinely intercepted and destroyed by guards aiming to eliminate scrutiny of their contemptible practices. By DOC rules, legal mail must remain sealed.
5. Establish a toll-free anonymous, confidential hotline to report inmate abuse, rape, corruption, medical neglect, and a host of other illegal activities. A special number could be dialed from inmate phones that would be encrypted and not be monitored by DOC personnel. The call would be answered or recorded by Commission personnel.
Regulations for private prison companies and private providers of mental health and medical staff:
One of the glaring omissions from my new employee orientation was the lack of any training regarding inmate abuse. Except for the obvious beating, torture, and killing of inmates, I was in the dark. Inmate abuse was happening all around me yet I passed it off as a bad day in prison. How can staffers do anything about abuse if they don't know what it is in the first place?
1. Future contracts with private contractors must have a clauses to deal with inmate abuse.
2. Private contractors must have educational/training seminars to inform company employees in every aspect of the recognition and reporting of inmate abuse.
Training for the Recognition and Reporting of Inmate Abuse
Currently, private providers of medical and mental health services have no training for new employees in what constitutes abuse. The following are a few of the many ways guards abuse inmates.
- Skipping Food Trays – “Air Tray”
- Punitive Cell Search
- Taunting / Antagonizing / Tormenting
- “Excessive Use of Force”
- Denial of Medical Treatment
- Punitive Use of Pepper Spray
- Pairing inmates with unequal sentences
4. Clearly stated consequences in Employee Manuals for not reporting inmate abuse: Immediate Dismissal.
Treatment Protocols for the Mentally Ill:
The FL DOC needs to do a better job at tracking the mentally ill from county jails. Estimates suggest that nearly 60% of all inmates suffer some form of mental illness while 16% suffer from severe mental illness. Inmates from the 16% will be targets for other inmates and untrained guards in general population settings. The severely mentally ill are traumatized multiple times whether it be on our streets, county jails, and the courts. The FL DOC is the largest single provider of mental health services in the state. It should not be the source of even more trauma.
1. Upon entry into prison system, segregate the mentally ill from general population into a specialized reception center.
2. Maintain medications from jail if possible.
3. Immediately perform a psychiatric evaluation.
4. Prescribe psychotropic medications and counseling.
5. Create programs and activities to humanely support the inmates in their progress and recovery from mental illness.
6. Under no circumstances should the severely mentally ill be placed in solitary confinement.
Requirements for Guards in a Psychiatric Setting
1. Guards who have a more than one ‘use of force’ entry in their records should not work in a psychiatric setting.
2. All guards who might work in these mental health settings must undergo personality screenings to ferret out those with their own mental health issues. I suggest the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2. The MMPI-2 can reveal adult psychopathology in guards and eliminate them from working with the mentally ill.
3. Crisis Intervention training and certification would be required.
4. Ongoing trainings for providing services and security to the mentally ill would be the norm.
Requirements for Guards in General
Another deficiency of the DOC is the consistently poor background screening of potential guards. A story broke last week about three guards with Ku Klux Klan affiliations arrested for conspiracy to murder a former inmate. Obviously, the DOC should set the bar higher.
1. It makes sense to give the MMPI-2 to all new recruits to keep those with sociopathic tendencies from guarding inmates. Sociopaths are exactly the type to abuse, torture, and kill inmates.
2. I would recommend the MMPI-2 being given to all current guards for obvious reasons, but that is likely to be shot down by the Unions.
3. In-depth background checks are not being conducted by the DOC. Many newspaper articles have revealed histories of criminal behavior in the backgrounds of abusive guards.
4. The FL DOC should have trainings to educate new employees and guards in the recognition and reporting of abuse. Identifying the many forms of abuse is the first step in clarifying what is unacceptable behavior. In the week long DOC orientation and yearly trainings, abuse and what constitutes abuse were never discussed.