Inmates broke through a concrete and brick dorm wall, smashed bathroom fixtures, pulled out toilets and left two dorms uninhabitable during a late-night riot at Franklin Correctional Institution in North Florida late Thursday that resulted in extensive damage but no injuries.
The riot involved an estimated 300 inmates, prison officials confirmed.
"Nobody's been hurt and the situation is under control." said Alberto Moscoso, spokesman for the Florida Department of Corrections. He called it a "security-related incident involving a dynamic mixture of inmates."
Inmates in the damaged Dorms E and F were bused to other facilities early Friday after the disturbance, which began at about 11 p.m. Thursday night, Moscoso confirmed. The prison, which has the capacity to house more than 1,200 inmates, was then placed on lockdown “as a precaution,’’ he said.
"Utilizing a trained tactical response, department staff quickly and effectively quelled the situation,'' he said in a statement. "Due in no small part to the judgment and professionalism of the responding officers, there were no serious injuries to either inmates or employees."
This is the second major disturbance at a Franklin Correctional since January and the third at a prison this year. In April, a corrections officer was ambushed and stabbed, and several other officers injured, during a fight at Columbia Correctional Institution in Lake City. The officer injured during that incident was airlifted to Shands Hospital in Gainesville.
In January, Florida prison officials quelled a riot at Franklin by firing warnings shots and shooting inmates with non-lethal pellets.
For the past year, three outside audits of the Department of Corrections have that dangerously low staffing levels leave the agency vulnerable to inmate disruptions at the state's 49 prisons.
But cuts made during the recession have not been restored and officers have been required to work overtime to cover extra shifts while many positions are left with one officer responsible for two assignments -- a practice known as "ghosting."
FDC Secretary Julie Jones has acknowledged for months that state prisons are dangerously understaffed — and that they’ve narrowly avoided inmate riots. She asked legislators for $36 million to fund 734 new officer positions that Jones called “imperative’’ to improve staffing conditions by reducing shifts from 12 hours to eight hours, reducing overtime and fatigue.
But Legislators rejected Jones' request and instead provided funding for only 215 new officers.
"These types of instances are symptoms of an underlying problem within the Department of Corrections that the Legislature is just beginning to understand,'' said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who called for one of the outside audits in 2015. "The short term may be more more money but the solution over the long term is more challenging."
He cited the findings of the reports which found "we can recruit officers but retention is abysmal. We're losing our prison guards every year and often our facilities are guarded by junior, unseasoned corrections officers."
"You've got to triage the next couple of years but ultimately come through with solutions to treat the underlying problems,'' he said.
Moscoso would not comment on the staffing levels at Franklin but acknowledged: "Staffing is an issue across all our institutions acrsos the state right now.''
The agency will conduct an investigation of the incident to determine and evaluate the response, he said.