December 05, 2017

Julie Jones on corrections officers who mocked inmate who died: I'm outraged

Jordanaparovia @jkbrownjournalist

A group of Florida correctional officers excoriated a dead inmate on social media, saying that the 27-year-old prisoner — who suffered from a genetic blood disorder and died after being gassed by officers — deserved what he got.

The officers, writing on a private Facebook page for Florida corrections officers that has 6,000 members, called the inmate a “bitch,’’ an “assh---e,’’ and other expletives as part of a lengthy thread that followed the posting of a story published in the Miami Herald last Wednesday.

The Miami Herald could reach only two of those whose names were attached to the comments. One, who said he recently left the Florida Department of Corrections, acknowledged his post. Story here: 

A news story told how an inmate was fatally gassed. Some guards are mocking the dead man.


December 01, 2017

Judge rejects Department of Corrections' request to throw out lawsuit in prison death of Jordan Aparo

JordanaparoBy @ceostroff

Even in a prison system known for questionable deaths, the case of Randall Jordan-Aparo stands out. Jordan-Aparo, a petty criminal known to suffer from a serious blood disorder, was gassed by corrections officers at Franklin Correctional Institution while pleading for medical attention. He collapsed and died in his cell, his corpse and clothing coated with a noxious, orange residue.

After his family sued, the the Florida Department of Corrections asked for the lawsuit to be tossed out.

This past week, the department got its answer: an emphatic no. Story here:

When a sickly inmate was gassed to death, Florida found no fault. A judge may disagree.

August 17, 2017

Prison visits halted for the weekend as Florida fears uprisings related to national prisoner rights march

Everglades Correctional MH Peter Andrew Bosch@jkbjournalist

Visitation to all Florida state prisons has been canceled this weekend after evidence surfaced that inmates are planning possible uprisings to coincide with Saturday’s march for prisoners’ human rights in Washington, D.C.

Julie Jones, Secretary for the Florida Department of Corrections, announced the move as a precaution, given the agency’s staff shortage and “credible intelligence’’ that groups of inmates at several institutions were planning disturbances.

“There’s no reason to be alarmed. We are just being proactive,’’ said Michelle Glady, a spokeswoman for the department. The agency is taking preemptive steps to secure facilities so that staff and inmates will be secure, she said. Story here. 

July 20, 2017

Why do Florida prisons deprive inmates of toilet paper?

Tomoka inmate shirt DRThe four wings of Florida's Tomoka Correctional Institution’s E cell block is home to some of the prison’s most menacing inmates. They have arrived there because of administrative and disciplinary problems but, in addition to restricting them to confined, two-man cells, the prison also deprives them of society's most basic necessities.

Toilet paper.

In prison after prison over seven months, Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, reported that toilet paper, toothbrushes, toothpaste, pillows, sheets, shirts and soap were often withheld from inmates, especially those in confinement.

Richardson, who has been on a one-man mission to hold the state’s troubled prison agency accountable, first observed the toilet paper troubles during a Jan. 19 visit to Baker Correctional Institution in northern Florida. After finding dozens of inmates without toilet paper, toothbrushes and other supplies, he asked the prison warden to open the storage unit just feet away from the inmate dorms, and deliver hygiene products with him to more than 50 inmates.

“It is behavior that is intended to dehumanize them — treating them like an animal,’’ Richardson said.

The warden at Baker Correctional “was embarrassed,’’ he said, as they walked from cell to cell delivering the tissue paper rolls. He complained to headquarters and “they were apologetic and put out an all-points bulletin that this was wrong.”

But the problem continued. During his fourth visit on to Tomoka Correctional near Daytona Beach on Saturday, Richardson said the situation was “deplorable.’’

“E1-219 no toilet paper, no pillow. Out of TP since 8am Friday,’’ he wrote in notes he sent to state prison officials Saturday, which he forwarded to the Miami Herald. “E1-218, out of TP since last night...E1-210, no pillow case; roaches and rats a big problem in the cell block...E1-214, no pillow, no soap.”

His notes detailed his findings of 37 cells. He found one inmate so sick he was throwing up and his roommate had been deprived of his inhaler for more than a month. Another inmate had an “open, weeping wound” and for days had no treatment. Windows in many of the dorms that have no air conditioning wouldn’t crank open for proper ventilation. Several inmates wore shirts and pants that were threadbare, torn or barely hanging on.

Until now, Richardson said he had not gone public about his findings about the hygiene products, hoping his reports and complaints to the FDC would change behavior.

“I’m not seeking publicity for myself. I'm seeking change,’’ he said Wednesday. “I wanted to work with them and see if they could get their problem under control and change behavior without being publicly shamed.”

It didn't work. Read more here. 

July 12, 2017

Legislature rewards Geo Group with $3 million deal to provide rehabilitation programming at its private prisons

DMS  private prisons mapDepartment of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones was visiting Graceville Correctional Facility, the private prison in North Florida run by The Geo Group, when she spotted a paperweight with a picture of handcuffs imprinted on it and the words “Continuum of Care.”

She was startled, and a bit angry, to learn that the company had started branding an idea developed by a member of her staff, Abe Uccello, and was using it to promote a new line of business.

“I said, ‘You son-of-a-guns,’ ” Jones recalled of the meeting in late 2015. “They had taken a white paper of Abe’s and stolen the entire thing — the content — and claimed to have patented it.”

Jones was determined not to share anything again with the private prison vendor “because I don’t want them to profit off of what we’re trying to do,” she told the Herald/Times in an April 2017 interview. But Florida legislative leaders had a different idea.

In March 2016, legislators approved $330,000 for The Geo Group to operate a pilot program to be run at Blackwater Correctional, using the ideas Jones said Uccello had developed for Florida’s state-run prison system. This year, lawmakers expanded the program to $3 million, with the money going exclusively to four of The Geo Group’s five private prisons in Florida — Bay, Moore Haven, South Bay, and Blackwater — “for the provision of enhanced in-prison and post-release recidivism reduction programs.” Read more here. 

April 13, 2017

Nine prison contracts had 'numbers fudged,' Richardson reveals. Will legislators do anything?

David Richardson House floor"All 9 contracts that I had audited had the numbers fudged,'' declared Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, on Wednesday as he wrapped up a 10-minute speech moments before the House voted 89-26 for its draft of the budget.

The retired forensic auditor urged his House colleagues to require more accountability over the private prison contracts as he detailed the abuses he found, offering a level of scrutiny not often seen on the floor of a legislative chamber.

For the last two years, Richardson has been on a one-man crusade to inspect the state's trouble prison system. He described how the state's seven private prison contracts get an audit when they come to an end but "they never have an end" because they have been routinely renewed without going out for bid. He spoke about how he has audited several contracts, made 90 prison visits, met 300 inmates and devoted 700 hours to his probe.

"My audits have shown that the money is not being spent the way we we think we're spending it,'' he said. 

His review of the massive prison agency comes in the same year House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, and his deputies have made a point of calling out "corporate welfare" and questionable contracts at two much smaller state agencies, Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida.

But on Wednesday Richardson was greeted by polite stares from Republican leaders -- and no reaction. 

"What I would like to see is some provisional language in this budget that would allow more safeguards and more oversight because what I have found is that we have a lot of spending going on but we have very little oversight,'' the Democrat said. "Many of you may not know this, but in the entirety of the life of private prisons there has never been one financial audit of a private prison operator. Not one."

He said he just completed an audit of six contracts with two private non-profit vendors hired to provide prison work release programming. He said that in 2012, Gov. Rick Scott recommended privatizing the facilities and suggested that it would save the state $460,000 over nine months. 

By 2014, the Florida Department of Corrections did privatize the contracts and, documents show, they promised $550,000 a year in savings. But a review of all contracts led Richardson to a different conclusion:

"We are not saving a dime,'' he said. Instead, the agency engaged in a "shell game that perpetrated this little trick."

When an inmate goes out to work in a job outside of prison, the work release facility keeps 55 percent of the net earnings to recover the cost of room and board, and the inmate keeps the rest, Richardson explained. But, during the recession, the Florida Legislature swept the revenue from the Department of Corrections' work release programs and used it to fund other agencies and projects in general revenue.

Florida's general revenue grew, but the state's deficit-ridden Department of Corrections fell further into the red. Then the equation changed when the governor and Legislature decided to privatize the six work release facilities.

"They gave away the general revenue,'' Richardson said. "The six facilities were bringing in $2.1 million into the state coffers every year -- our share of the 55 percent of net income,'' he explained, but the contracts the vendors signed with the state allowed them to keep the money. 

"How could so many people knowledgeable about these contracts not see that?" he asked. "So rather than saving $550,000...we are losing over $1 million to the State of Florida. And it's a nice little shell game that got played because people didn't talk about that little bucket of money."

"Friends,'' Richardson pleaded. "We have got to take a serious look into these contracts. I have now audited 9 contracts...and all 9 contracts that I had audited had the numbers fudged to justify privatization. And it's time for this body and this Legislature to take a serious look at how we are spending the taxpayers' money."

In a oblique reference to the powerful special interests that hire lobbyists, he added: "The taxpayers back home don't have a lobbyist here.

"But wait! They do,'' he said facetiously. "It's you and it's me. You see we got sent here to be the lobbyist for the taxpayer, to make sure that their dollars were spent wisely and so we need to do our job as legislators and hold everybody accountable so that every dollar is accounted for."

He concluded by asking for more language in the budget that "will hold these facilities more accountable and for us to be responsible for our taxpayers back home."

Photo: Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, speaks on the House floor. Courtesy of Rep. David Richardson. 



April 12, 2017

Do private prisons save money as promised? Legislature doesn't know but keeps approving

Richardson and Poppell at GadsdenWhen he was first elected, Florida Gov. Rick Scott was so determined to meet his campaign promise of saving $1 billion on prisons that he pushed through a series of contracts with private operators that on paper claimed to produce millions in annual savings.

But the promised savings have never materialized, according to audits done by Rep. David Richardson, a Miami Beach Democrat who has been a one-man investigation unit into Florida’s troubled prison system. Many of the contracts, which were required to save at least 7 percent a year, actually cost the state more money than taxpayers would have spent if the programs had never been privatized. In some cases, he also found, medical care and access to programming in the private facilities was often worse.

“This is not saving the state money because they are more efficient; they are saving money as a contractor because they are denying goods and services to the inmates,” Richardson said.

His most recent prison audit, a review of Gadsden Correctional Facility in North Florida, found that the prison run by Management Training Corp. of Centerville, Utah, saved money by withholding heat, hot water, educational supplies and medical care for inmates for months. (The warden has resigned, and the company says it is addressing concerns.)

The governor’s goal to privatize dozens of prisons was thwarted by the state Senate in 2012, but he succeeded in advancing contracts with two healthcare companies to turn over prison medical care to private contractors. Legislators made sure that the contracts with the private vendors were not managed at the Department of Corrections, where career bureaucrats might be threatened by the private competitors, and moved them to the Department of Management Services, which has expertise in contracts, but not prisons.

Richardson discovered that in their zeal to hand over prison operations to private vendors, neither the governor’s office, the Department of Corrections, the Department of Management Services, nor the Legislature’s auditors ever went back to check whether the savings were valid.

On Thursday, Florida lawmakers are poised to adopt draft House and Senate budgets that Richardson says embed the same phantom savings into the budget for another year. Story here. 

Photo: Rep. David Richardson was joined by former Department of Management Secretary Chad Poppell at a visit to Gadsden Correctional Facility in North Florida, a private prison whose contract is managed by DMS. Photo courtesy of Rep. David Richardson.

April 10, 2017

Corizon, medical provider to Florida prisons, agrees to pay $1.7 million for denying inmates hernia care

Corizon HealthAbout 1,800 current and former Florida prison inmates who were denied medical care for hernias will be entitled to divide $1.7 million in damages from a class-action lawsuit under a conditional settlement agreed to by the Department of Corrections and its former prison health-care provider, Corizon, and filed in federal court in Tallahassee last week.

The suit was brought by the Florida Justice Institute and the Coral Gables law firm of Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton in September 2015 on behalf of three inmates. It alleged Corizon and the agency violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments by denying the inmates medical care in an effort to save money.

The damages will be paid by Corizon, but the settlement agreement also requires the state prison system to adopt a new policy to provide consultations with surgeons for inmates with hernia symptoms in all Florida facilities.

“Obviously, the inmates are there for a reason. We are not trying to make their time in detention a country club, but there is a responsibility to provide humane conditions for their incarceration and in this case we achieved a big step in making sure the medical treatment complies with the standard of care in the industry,” said Ken Hartman, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle gave preliminary approval to the settlement at the March 29 hearing but because several of the affected inmates are residing in other states, the settlement requires that their state attorneys general be notified and given an opportunity to object to the agreement. Hinkle said he would enter a final an order in 100 days. Story here. 



March 28, 2017

Richardson wins narrow approval to shift oversight of private prisons to a single agency

David Richardson at GadsdenNumbers don't lie and Florida's private prisons are not saving money as promised, according to an investigation by legislator and retired forensic auditor Rep. David Richardson.

Part of the reason, he believes, is that the agency in charge of monitoring the contracts has no experience in prisons so the private prison vendors have for years "hoodwinked" the Department of Management Services, which supervises their contracts

After nearly two years investigating and auditing state prisons, Richardson, D-Miami Beach, won a small victory Tuesday and persuaded a House committee to shift oversight of the seven private prisons in Florida into a single agency to increase accountability and end what he says is a culture of finger-pointing when troubles emerge.

"I want one agency accountable and we will call them when things go wrong,'' said Richardson, as the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee voted 7-6 to move oversight of the state's seven private prison from the Department of Management Services to the Department of Corrections. 

In the audience sat lobbyists for the private prison companies the Geo Group, Management Training Corp. and Corrections Corporation of America. None of them spoke to oppose the bill but had been urging members of the committee to reject it for days. 

"I understand why the private prison operators wouldn't want it because for years they have had DMS hoodwinked,'' Richardson said after the meeting. "We have found inflated pricing, tremendous performance problems and cost-cutting measures that were unsafe and wasting taxpayer money." 

Since 2004, when the Florida Legislature was moving aggressively to privatize prisons and prison programs, DMS has been charged with managing and enforcing private prison contracts while the job of inmate discipline, gain-time and release was left to the Florida Department of Corrections.

After spending more than 700 hours interviewing more than 300 inmates at dozens of facilities across the state, Richardson, a retired forensic accountant, discovered that the bifurcated oversight worked to the advantage of the three private prison companies and to the disadvantage of taxpayers.

He found that contracts that had been signed by DMS employees had used inflated measures to achieve the cost savings. The state not only guaranteed more education, substance abuse and transition programming at the private prisons than the state-run prisons but it also gave the private prisons the lowest risk inmate populations and, when he reviewed the contract with Lake City Correctional Facility, a youthful offender prison, he discovered the state had overpaid the contractor more than $16 million. 

"I asked a very basic question: How do we pay these people?,'' he told the committee Tuesday. "Being an accountant and auditor, some of the numbers started jumping off the page for me, and raised a lot of questions."

For example, he concluded that although state law requires the private prisons to operate at seven percent savings over what it would cost for the state to maintain the same operation, when he looked at the numbers used to justify the savings, he found questionable numbers.

"There were some escalating factors within those calculations that pumped up the price in a way that caused the final number to be inflated and, when you take 7 percent off of that, the number is higher than what it should be,'' he said. 

He said he next tried to see who was responsible for that but "trying to get to an answer was very difficult because the Department of Corrections point out to me that the Department of Management Services is the one that managed the contracts and DMS told me that it was the Department of Corrections that was responsible."

"No one wants to take accountability for this issue,'' Richardson said. "We need to have one agency responsible for those contracts so that we can hold it accountable."

In the last month, Richardson has exposed so many financial, as well as health and safety violations at the Gadsden Correctional Facility in North Florida that he has asked the governor to use his emergency powers to replace the management and take state control of the 1544-inmate facility. On Tuesday, Richardson learned that the facility's warden, Shelly Sonberg, is retiring. 

But several of the members of the House committee were skeptical of Richardson's plan.

The private prison industry has been one of the most generous contributors to legislative political committees for the last decade and legislators have harbored doubts about the ability of the Department of Corrections to police itself in the wake of scandals that include the indictment of the resignation and arrest of the former secretary of the department in 2006 for accepting kickbacks, and more recent stories about abuse and cover-ups at the agency. 

"Are you suggesting there was collusion" between the contractors and the agency? asked Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart. 

Richardson responded, "I certainly would not use the word collusion. I have concerns about the way these contracts have been awarded and monitored."

Rep. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, said he couldn't support the change because it created a conflict of interest to have FDC managing contracts in competition with its own operations. 

Harrell also voted against it. "I think this merits an in-depth audit before we make significant changes of uprooting departments,'' she said.  

Richardson said he was pleased with the vote but acknowledged the uphill climb he has to get the change through this year. 

"If nothing else, I have put the issue front and center for discussion purposes,'' he said. 

 Photo: Rep. David Richardson at a visit to the private prison, Gadsden Correctional Facility. Courtesy of David Richardson. 

March 23, 2017

Inmate who exposed prison scalding death feared investigation would be whitewashed


Over the past four years, there is probably no one who fought harder for justice for Darren Rainey than Harold Hempstead.

Hempstead was shipped to a prison in Tennessee abruptly last Friday, guaranteeing that he would not be able to respond to the Miami-Dade state attorney’s decision — released later that same day — clearing corrections officers in Rainey’s June 23, 2012, death at Dade Correctional Institution.

The state attorney’s close-out memo took direct aim at Hempstead’s credibility, devoting eight pages to debunking his allegation that Rainey, who suffered from mental illness, had been forced into a specially rigged shower by corrections officers who had been using scalding showers to punish inmates for bad behavior. Story here.