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Jones accuses Miami Herald of withholding 'disturbing allegations' on Florida prison from agency

The Florida Department of Corrections pledged on Monday to “thoroughly review” allegations of corruption and sexual abuse at Lowell Correctional Institution, the nation’s largest women’s prison.

The allegations, involving coerced sex and the bartering of sex for illegal drugs and other contraband brought into the prison by corrections officers, were detailed in a Miami Herald I-team series, Beyond Punishment. The first installment was published Sunday, in print and on MiamiHerald.com, with additional parts planned Wednesday and this coming weekend.

The articles said women who complained about abuse were locked away in confinement — a more restrictive form of incarceration — sometimes until they recanted their allegations.

A statement issued by the FDC and attributed to Secretary Julie Jones said: “As the nation’s third largest correctional system, responsible for the country’s largest women’s prison, I feel that it is our responsibility to be a national leader in implementing policy focused on the incarceration and rehabilitation of women. Since joining the department in January, I have strived to work collaboratively with our community partners, including those who represent our state’s news organizations, to build a more accountable and progressive Department of Corrections.

“Among our many reforms implemented in the last year, I believe that our personnel and policy changes at Lowell will have a long-term effect and create safe and accountable environment for our inmates and staff. While I believe that the Herald had an obligation to the inmates behind these incidents to act quickly and immediately report new and relevant information recovered during their reporting to a law enforcement entity, this is not the course of action the paper chose to take. Nevertheless, we will thoroughly review the disturbing allegations brought forward by the Miami Herald to ensure that the appropriate action is taken against any individual bearing responsibility for misconduct. To continue in our efforts to be accountable to the people of Florida, we will provide relevant updates as we progress with this review.”

The FDC secretary was asked in advance of the series to comment on conditions at Lowell, but her spokesman said she could not because of an illness in the family. The department did not make her top deputy, Ricky Dixon, available for an interview. 

Responding to the FDC statement issued Monday, Aminda Marqués Gonzalez, executive editor of the Miami Herald, said: “Our role as journalists is to investigate and report on critical issues that might otherwise go unnoticed. We did that for this series using hundreds of records obtained from the Department of Corrections, as well as scores of interviews. Had a representative from corrections agreed to our many requests for an interview before publication, they would have learned about the issues raised by our reporting.”

On Monday, Legislators at a “justice summit” in Sarasota said that while they believed the series calls for action from the Legislature in reviewing department policies, they have confidence in Jones for the “challenging task” and that she has been helping to cut down on the culture of corruption in Florida prisons since she assumed the secretary position.

More here.