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Near-riot quelled in North Florida prison but agency faces more questions of understafffing

Florida prison officials acknowledged Monday that they had to fire warnings shots, shoot inmates with non-lethal pellets and put a North Florida prison on lockdown to prevent a riot last week.

The incident at Franklin Correctional Institution, which houses more than 1,300 male inmates near Carrabelle, lasted three days and was the most violent to occur at a prison since Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones took control over a year ago. It also comes as an independent audit commissioned by the Legislature has revealed that the agency is dangerously understaffed.

“Were we staffed to critical complement? Yes,” Jones told Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman Greg Evers at a hearing Monday, referring to the loophole in the law that allows wardens to modify staffing levels to accommodate their needs. “Were we appropriately staffed? Sir, no.”

Staffing at the nation’s third-largest prison system is at near-crisis levels, according to a report done by CGL, an independent prison consulting firm in Sacramento. 

The $300,000 audit was added to the 2015-16 budget by Florida Legislature last year after reports by the Miami Herald and other news organizations detailed a rise in use-of-force incidents, inmate deaths and cover-ups of inmate abuse by agency staff.

“We saw some very serious deficiencies primarily as it relates to the staffing,” said Karl Becker, a consultant with CGL. “Those low staffing issues contribute to security issues and security concerns.”

More here.