Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones has vowed to "fix what needs to be fixed" at the agency that has been the focus of intense scrutiny from legislators and federal law enforcement agencies.
But Jones has also steadfastly defended the officials at DOC, including Inspector General Jeffery Beasley, who have dismissed allegations that prison officials caused or contributed to several suspicious inmate deaths. She has denied the unexplained deaths is a "crisis" and blamed the allegations of cover-up on "disgruntled employees."
Jones also told the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Feb. 2 that it was "absolutely not true" that the agency had "mismanaged inmate deaths."
Do the facts bear this out?
An investigation by the Miami Herald into documents and testimony of current and former investigators has found that a culture of brutality was tolerated for several years at the Northwest Florida Reception Center. The prison recorded nearly 4,500 use of force reports from 2003-2013, ruled six of the 22 inmate deaths in eight years a homicide and four deaths in 2014 are under investigation.
The officials with the power to stop the brutal behavior -- wardens, assistant wardens and the inspector -- dismissed many of the allegations, the Herald found, some taking action only after federal authorities got involved. Many of those same officials have been promoted at DOC and are poised to be placed in higher positions of authority under Jones.
Here's the story by the Miami Herald's Julie K. Brown:
Few people knew the depths of terror, misery and pain inflicted upon Florida’s state prison inmates more profoundly than Capt. James Kirkland.
During 14 years as a corrections officer, Kirkland was repeatedly accused — and not just by inmates, but by fellow corrections officers — of abusing inmates at the Northwest Florida Reception Center in Chipley. They said he contaminated inmates’ food, sprayed them with chemicals for no reason and threatened to break their fingers and to kill them, according to Florida Department of Corrections and court documents obtained by the Miami Herald.
These practices flourished under former Warden Samuel Culpepper, a tough disciplinarian brought in to clean up the troubled institution. Under Culpepper, inmates in confinement at Northwest Florida said they were stripped naked or down to their boxers at the whim of guards and had all their belongings and their mattresses taken away, then left around the clock on a cold metal bunk for 72 hours or more, with nothing to hold, not even a Bible.
DOC policy allows that to occur if an inmate in confinement — housed away from the general population — is impeding the institution’s normal operations. But inmates said the policy was taken to unheard-of extremes under Culpepper. Inmates complained that they would shiver, cold and petrified, waiting to be gassed. More here.
Photo: Capt. James Kirkland