July 07, 2016

Fearing a 'ticking time bomb,' corrections officers plea for a special session to deal with short-staffing

via @Jknipebrown

Calling Florida prisons “a ticking time bomb,” members of the union representing state corrections officers called on Gov. Rick Scott and lawmakers on Wednesday to convene an emergency legislative session to address the state’s prison crisis.

One recent riot, several inmate uprisings, and widespread attacks on officers and inmates have alarmed members of Teamsters 2011, the union representing the state’s 2,000 corrections and probation officers.

“We recognize that this request is extraordinary, however under the present circumstances, it is necessary to prevent imminent harm and necessary for the safety of our officers,” wrote Kimberly Schultz, an elected delegate and candidate for president of the union, wrote to the governor, Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli.

The odds of lawmakers agreeing to a special session are slim. Several Orlando-based Democrats have spent the past two weeks trying to convene a special session on gun control reforms but were unsuccessful, falling 46 votes short — with lawmakers divided along party lines.

Gardiner had not yet seen Schultz’s letter, and the Miami Herald was unsuccessful in reaching Crisafulli. Both lawmakers are Republicans. Story here. 

June 28, 2016

Legislator visits prison, finds kids forced to dump food trays in the trash -- for talking

Richardson and ReidIt was lunch time and the newly arrived teenage inmates had just filed into the mess hall at Sumter Correctional Institution, sat down with their lunch trays and began eating. Some of them started talking — just like the inmates who’d been there longer were doing at nearby tables.

But their supervising officer considered the newbies disruptive. He warned them. They continued. Within minutes, Officer Alexander was ordering the nearly 15 inmates to stand up and dump their lunch trays in the trash. He then ordered them back into their dorm.

That’s where state Rep. David Richardson, a Democrat from Miami Beach, found them. 

Richardson was at the Central Florida prison in Bushnell on one of his routine visits to the state’s largest male youthful offender programs. Richardson randomly selected six of the 14- to 17-year-olds to speak with him and, one-by-one, started asking questions.

“How’s your day going?” Richardson said he asked.

“Not very good,” was the reply. “We were just at the lunch room and a couple of people were talking and the guard told us to go and dump all our food in the trash.” All six inmates identified Alexander as responsible. The agency, citing the ongoing investigation, would not reveal Alexander’s first name or any other information about him.

Depriving inmates of food is against the law in Florida’s prisons but when it happens, it rarely gets reported. Richardson complained and FDC responded immediately. They removed Alexander from contact with the inmates who had been in prison less than three weeks. The inmates were supplied with another tray of food, and FDC opened an investigation to determine what discipline to take against Alexander. Story here. 

Photo: Rep. David Richardson visiting Suwannee Correctional Institution earlier this year. 

Panel rips prison agency for retaliating against whistleblower but says violations aren't criminal

DOC compliance reviewThe Department of Corrections wrongly turned its investigative might against one of its own — violating its own policies, stacking up allegations against a whistleblower, and spending more time focused on investigating him than they spent on probing a claim of inmate abuse, a law enforcement panel ruled late Tuesday
The three-member Compliance Review Panel was charged with deciding if the department was guilty of criminal misconduct for intentionally retaliating against Doug Glisson, a senior investigator at the Department of Corrections who since 2014 has accused his bosses of covering up inmate abuse and agency corruption.
Their ruling was that the agency had violated Glisson’s rights, breached its own protocol, allowed for harassing behavior, and failed to follow the law when his bosses subjected him to six internal affairs investigations. But, they said, the conduct was not criminal. 
“The panel does not believe there was overwhelming intent” that the investigator who conducted the investigation against Glisson, Brian Falstrom, intentionally violated Glisson’s rights, the panel wrote in a two-page ruling. Falstrom “did not receive adequate training or had the prior experience to conduct the internal affairs investigations into the allegations.”
The panel, instead, directed its blame on the department, particularly former Chief Inspector General Jeffery Beasley, Glisson’s boss who was reassigned earlier this year. 
Glisson and three fellow investigators claim that Beasley had dismissed their call to investigate the gassing death of inmate Randall Jordan-Aparo at Franklin Correctional Institution in 2010. They told a state Senate committee in February 2015 that Beasley had directed them to back off investigating that case and others and, a day after the committee grilled Beasley, Glisson was hit with the six internal investigations. 
The panel raised several concerns about the agency’s treatment of Glisson, saying it had “great concern” regarding the six internal investigations launched between August 2014 and February 2015 without notifying Glisson, then dumping them all on him on the day after the Senate hearing. Story here. 

Photo: Department of Corrections Compliance Review Hearing, Tuesday, June 28. Seated at the table from left: Attorney Steve Andrews, Marty Snow, inspector general FHSMV, David Odom, Tallahassee Police Department, David Clark, FDC inspector, David Falstrom, FDC inspector. Credit: Mary Ellen Klas

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June 22, 2016

Four years after brutal Florida prison death, no punishment but lack of trust, disclosure and confidence

Raineyvia JKnipeBrown

One thousand four hundred and sixty one days.

That’s how long it’s been since Darren Rainey was forced into a shower by officers at Dade Correctional Institution and left there, under a blistering spray of scalding water, for nearly two hours. It’s been four years since Rainey screamed and begged to be let out of the small stall before finally collapsing in a heap, his skin peeling.

Since Rainey’s death, it was discovered that he and other mentally ill inmates at the prison had been tortured, beaten, starved and left to sleep in their own excrement. They were doused with buckets of chemicals, over-medicated, kept in extended isolation and placed in painfully cold or blistering showers as punishment for behavior caused mostly by their own illnesses.

While Rainey’s death has led to some reforms in the treatment of the mentally ill in Florida prisons, the prison system remains dangerously understaffed and rife with violence, as evidenced by recent riots and turmoil at Franklin Correctional Institution in north-central Florida.

Details of the June 9 incident at Franklin haven’t been made public, and may never be known. The absence of transparency by the agency, critics say, has bred distrust and a lack of confidence that the prison system is truly taking the steps necessary to keep inmates, officers and the public secure. Story here. 

June 10, 2016

Prison riot at North Florida prison causes extensive damages, no injuries

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.

June 02, 2016

Officer at Florida women's prison arrested for sex with inmates

by @JKnipeBrown

An officer with a history of misconduct complaints was arrested Wednesday on charges that he sexually abused two inmates at Lowell Correctional Institution in Ocala, authorities said.

The arrest marks the first time that an officer at the prison has been charged with a sex-related crime, and is the sixth arrest of a Lowell officer since the Miami Herald published a series in December about female prisoners who had been abused, threatened or forced to have sex with guards.

The yearlong investigation found that nearly every time an inmate filed a complaint against an officer, she was sent to confinement, a more restrictive form of incarceration where inmates are kept in a small cell with little more than the clothes on their back for weeks or even months. The women who complied with the officers’ sex demands, however, were rewarded with better treatment, with cheeseburgers and other free-world food, and with basic necessities, like soap and toilet paper, that were always in short supply.

Marion County Chief Assistant State Attorney Ric Ridgway said the arrest Wednesday should be considered a warning to other officers at the prison. Story here.

May 31, 2016

Prison investigators, now demoted, raise heat on agency with lawsuit and allegations of interference

Miguel note re AntonacciCharges of corruption against the Florida Department of Corrections escalated Tuesday as two demoted senior investigators filed a new lawsuit, accusing the agency of retaliating against them for alleging cover-ups, inmate abuse and political interference on behalf of a company whose lead lobbyist became the governor’s general counsel.

In the 544-page compliant filed Tuesday in circuit court in Leon County, Doug Glisson and John Ulm allege that their bosses systematically tried to discredit them and set them up for demotions by concocting charges, violating agency procedures and even forging signatures. 

They claim that the governor’s office has wielded influence over agency investigations and point to both the governor’s former top lawyer, Pete Antonacci, and his chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel, as being involved.

Glisson and Ulm, both senior investigators in the Office of Inspector General, were demoted in May after spending the past two years speaking out. In testimony before a state Senate committee last year, they alleged that their boss, then-Inspector General Jeffery Beasley, covered up evidence of inmate abuse, dismissed allegations of impropriety by those close to him and failed to properly police violent corrections officers. They are asking the court to order their reinstatement and for the state to pay all attorney fees and lost wages.

FDC spokesman Alberto Moscoso said the agency would not comment “on active or pending litigation [that] involves the agency or any of our current or former members.”

The dozens of supporting documents filed with the court include copies of agency reports, emails and investigations that show the agency conducted a series of internal investigations into Glisson and Ulm. The inspectors allege the investigations were assigned to officers who took directions from Beasley or had conflicts of interest.

Glisson and Ulm also allege that Beasley ordered Ulm to close an investigation into the department’s former food vendor, U.S. Foods, after the company was accused of serving inmates tainted meat and engaging in deceitful billing.

In a July 2015 letter to Beasley, Ulm suggested that U.S. Foods’ former lobbyist — Pete Antonacci, the governor’s general counsel, who now serves as executive director of the South Florida Water Management District — should be questioned as should “conspirators and persons of interest” in the case. Ulm believed that the case should be referred to the federal government “because of the vast amounts of federal money involved” and because, he said, lobbyists were being paid to try to keep the U.S. Foods contracts in effect in Florida despite the allegations.

His email noted that after Antonacci went to work for the governor, U.S. Foods did not hire another lobbyist to be the liaison with the department, suggesting it didn’t need to because of Antonacci’s position of influence.

“This capital connection could come back to cause an embarrassment to [FDC] Secretary [Julie] Jones, as well as the entire Department,’’ Ulm wrote. “I would like you to reconsider your position and directive not to investigate or seek a referral to another agency concerning the various corporations who I now believe fronted for U.S. Foods.” He also indicated he was seeking whistleblower protection. Story here. 

Download Glisson Ulm v DOC complaint

Download Ulm letter re US Foods

Download Miguel notes

Download Ulm letter to Beasley

Photo: Note to the file from the governor’s chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel, indicates she wanted to issue her report but was being told by the governor’s office to wait until after the 2014 election.

May 26, 2016

Judge sides with prison whistleblower and orders a hearing

A Tallahassee judge has ruled that the Florida Department of Corrections violated the due process rights of an agency whistleblower and ordered it to conduct a special hearing to review claims of retaliation against him after he accused the chief inspector general of cover-ups.

Circuit Court Judge Charles Dodson gave the agency 30 days to hold a “compliance hearing” to allow investigator Doug Glisson to demonstrate how he believes his rights under the Police Officers Bill of Rights were violated.

Glisson, a supervisor who has a 20-year career in law enforcement, was hit with six internal affairs investigations in a single day after he told members of a state Senate committee about what he suspected were instances of cover-up and abuse at the state prison agency. During the investigations, Glisson concluded that the reviews were superficial, that the officer in charge — Inspector Brian Falstrom — was biased against him, and that the goal of the investigations was to discredit him or force him out.

Glisson protested in a six-page letter to FDC Secretary Julie Jones in May 2015. He asked for a formal compliance review hearing to go over his complaints, but was rebuffed and sued the agency.

In the letter to Jones, Glisson called for Falstrom to be removed from the investigation because, according to another investigator’s sworn affidavit, Falstrom had called Glisson an “effing whistleblower.” Only after Glisson sued last fall was Falstrom removed from the case.

Dodson ruled that Glisson was entitled to the hearing, that he had no other legal remedy and that the agency erred when it claimed it did not have to grant him a hearing. Under the law, Glisson will have the right to choose two members of the five-member compliance review board. The agency will pick two and those four will pick a fifth.

FDC spokesman Alberto Moscoso said FDC was still reviewing the ruling and would have no comment.

Glisson’s attorney, Ryan Andrews, said the ruling could have broad-ranging consequences for other whistleblowers and officers who are the subject of internal affairs investigations within the department.

While this is a victory for Mr. Glisson personally and professionally, it is also a victory for all employees of the Department of Corrections. This ruling will help all employees at DOC get what they never could before when their Officers' Bill of Rights are violated,’’ he said.

The department files “hundreds of these internal affairs investigations a year and I’m not aware of them ever granting a compliance review hearing or a compliance review board in the history of the department,’’ he said. “They deny them as a matter of course, as a rubber stamp, and now they can’t do it anymore.”

Glisson is one of five FDC investigators who unsuccessfully sued the agency in 2014 after Gov. Rick Scott’s inspector general, Melinda Miguel, refused to give them special protection that would have shielded them from administrative consequences.

Glisson believes he is being punished for speaking out against former Inspector General Jeffery Beasley. He accused his former boss of improperly and unethically interfering with pending investigations.

Glisson and three others testified on March 9, 2015, before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. They alleged that Beasley shut down an investigation into the death of an inmate at Jefferson Correctional Institution, ordered investigators to cover up that a doctor who had been hired by the agency had his license revoked in another state, and ordered Glisson and another inspector to tamp down an investigation into inmate abuse by a training center director because of a “Capitol connection” — someone who had close ties to a person in Gov. Rick Scott’s office.

“Mr. Glisson has been through hell since he stood up for what he believed in and made his protected disclosures regarding the suspicious death of Randall Jordan Aparo,’’ Andrews said. “Although it has taken time, these whistleblowers will not be kept down."

Earlier this year, Jones reassigned Beasley to a newly created job as chief of intelligence. He continues to draw an annual salary of $116,500

May 11, 2016

State agrees not to close prison re-entry program at expense of work release beds

State prison officials announced Wednesday they have reached an agreement to continue a privately-run inmate transition program in Broward and Manatee counties for two more years, but the agreement comes at a cost: the closing of a work-release center for 122 inmates.

The Florida Department of Corrections notified Bridges of America last month that it would have to move out of the state-owned building that houses the inmate transition program by May 15 because the agency needed the Pompano Beach space for its probation offices. It then told the company that it would also cancel the Bradenton Bridge contract in July, forcing 84 transition inmates and 36 work-release inmates to move.

But after several state and local officials protested the moves at each facility, FDC backed down and announced Wednesday it had signed contracts to keep the Broward Bridges of America program in both locations. More here. 

May 02, 2016

Agency defends closing transition center because Broward sheriff's won't transport offenders

In the continuing saga over the Florida Department of Corrections' decision to close down a Pompano Beach inmate transition center in Broward County on May 15, the agency is directing blame at the Broward County Sheriff for contributing to the crisis. 

Their statement is based on a January letter in which the Broward County sheriff declared that beginning Feb. 1 it would "no longer absorb" the cost of transporting former inmates -- more than 500 a year -- who were violating their probation from the FDC's Lauderdale Lakes to jail. Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones responded, saying that was a violation of state law and "contrary to public safety and your statutory duty. " When Broward didn't change course, FDC started looking around for a new location to handle more than 5600 offenders on probation in the county. 

FDC now says it found its solution in Pompano Beach -- in the state building that now houses 172 inmates at the successful Bridges of America transition program.

Judging by the chain of emails and documents obtained by the Herald/Times, by deciding to close the Pompano Bridges of America transition center and using it to house the agency's consolidated probation office, FDC dealt with one problem by creating another. It dealt with the Broward Sheriff's Office by sending a conflicting message on its commitment to inmate re-entry programs. 

Bridges of America held a second press conference in two weeks Monday to keep the pressure on FDC to reverse its decision. This time, Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, the chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, blasted the department for misleading him about the need to transfer the budget for the Bridges' program - which is run in from a state building where it pays no rent -- from the institutions budget to the programs budget, because he believed it might be less likely closed to make room for other programs. 

"This past session, I was afraid for this program,'' he said. But he said he was told by FDC staff "there was no need" to transfer the program to a different part of the budget. "I was lied to," he said.

Dominic Calabro of TaxWatch chided the agency for closing a program that saves taxpayer money by reducing recidivism. 

And Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, the incoming chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told the Herald/Times that while he has not spoken with Bridges of America CEO Lori Constatino-Brown about the issue, and hasn't "made a decision to try to help her yet."

But, Latvala said, "if the Legislature makes a decision that we're going to fund re-entry programs, they ought to be funded. In this particular case, the Legislature made a decision." 

There are lots of unanswered questions here and, judging by the answers from FDC, things just keep getting murkier.

It's clear the agency knew it was going to have a problem with its probation offices in January, when it was warned that the Broward sheriff wouldn't transport probation violators to jail. Did it ask the Legislature for help in finding a new facility or did it plan all along to target Bridges and use it as an opportunity to close down the facility of the private provider? Is there another private provider lining up to take the business or will FDC reduce the re-entry efforts? 

The agency has been unable to provide any evidence that it is not going to decrease the net number of re-entry positions with the closing of Bridges. When asked, FDC offers no explanation for how it will be replacing the 172 lost positions with additional positions at other facilities. 

Here's a timeline of what we know to date:

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