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. 

March 17, 2017

Prosecutors conclude after two-year probe: no crime was committed in Darren Rainey scalding death

Raineyvia @JKnipeBrown

The corrections officers who locked a schizophrenic man in a shower for nearly two hours — a shower that some inmates say was used as a means to punish unruly prisoners with blistering hot water — committed no crime, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle announced Friday.

The state attorney’s two-year investigation into the June 23, 2012, death of Darren Rainey at Dade Correctional Institution concluded that the officers — Sgt. John Fan Fan, Cornelius Thompson, Ronald Clarke and Edwina Williams — did not act with premeditation, malice, recklessness, ill-will, hatred or evil intent when they herded Rainey into the shower.

“The shower was itself neither dangerous nor unsafe,’’ the report concluded. “The evidence does not show that Rainey’s well-being was grossly disregarded by the correctional staff.’’ Story here.


February 26, 2017

Private prison deprived inmates of heat and hot water for months, Richardson finds

Gadsden broken faucetThe 284 women housed in C-dorm at Gadsden Correctional Facility lived for months without hot water or heat, faced flooded bathrooms daily and endured water rations when the septic tanks were jammed with food waste.

After state Rep. David Richardson demanded action following a series of surprise visits over the past 18 months, the private prison operator that runs the facility — Management Training Corp. of Centerville, Utah — received approval from the state to repair and replace the water heater, at a cost to taxpayers of nearly $10,000. But Warden Shelly Sonberg never authorized the work.

Richardson, a Miami Beach Democrat, announced another inspection this month, this time with Chad Poppell, the head of the Department of Management Services, the state agency that oversees private prisons, and two other state legislators.

In the two days before they arrived, four work crews descended on the prison and made many of the repairs. The vice president of the private prison operator, Management Training Corp., also arrived in town to meet with state officials. The state’s chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel, dispatched inspectors to assess the safety and welfare of the inmates.

For Richardson, who has been on a one-man mission to force change in Florida’s troubled prison system, it’s another frustrating example of the failure of the state to monitor and hold accountable its prison operators.

“I’m a policymaker. I’m not a monitor. I’m not their auditor. Why is it that I’m out there fixing water heaters?” he said.

In a letter to Richardson Thursday, Poppell said he has since removed the state-paid official in charge of monitoring conditions at the prison and has also launched his own investigation. Story here. 

Photo: One of several non-working hot water faucets found by Rep. David Richardson at Gadsden Correctional Facility where women have been deprived of heat and hot water for months. 

January 13, 2017

Use of force in Florida's prisons continued to rise to record highs, stats show. Here's 2 reasons why

Use of Force graphicVia @Jknipebrown

Violence in Florida’s state prisons continues to escalate as the use of force by corrections officers soared to an eight-year high in 2015-2016, newly released state figures show.

Use of force topped 7,300 incidents in the fiscal year ending June 30, the highest number of incidents since 2007-08. Inmate deaths in calendar year 2016 also rose slightly — from 354 to 366 — and remain at an all-time high. Murders and inmate-on-inmate assaults have more than doubled in the past six years, state records reveal.

Julie Jones, who took charge of the beleaguered prison system two years ago this month, said the proliferation of inmate gangs and the fact that nearly half of the 

Violence in Florida’s state prisons continues to escalate as the use of force by corrections officers soared to an eight-year high in 2015-2016, newly released state figures show.

Use of force topped 7,300 incidents in the fiscal year ending June 30, the highest number of incidents since 2007-08. Inmate deaths in calendar year 2016 also rose slightly — from 354 to 366 — and remain at an all-time high. Murders and inmate-on-inmate assaults have more than doubled in the past six years, state records reveal.

ulie Jones, who took charge of the beleaguered prison system two years ago this month, said the proliferation of inmate gangs and the fact that nearly half of the state’s corrections officers have less than two years of experience contributed to the uptick in violence.

 “I have inexperienced officers supervising inexperienced officers — plus a 41 percent increase in the gang population,” Jones said.

The department also continues to struggle with how to house a growing number of inmates with mental illness — and how to better train officers to deal with them.

“Mentally ill inmates receive more disciplinary reports, more use of force, more cell extractions and more mental health emergencies,” Jones said.

In the past decade and a half, the number of inmates with mental illness has risen 157 percent, she said. That spike has coincided with the closing of hospitals and other therapeutic facilities for the mentally ill.

The agency has been bitterly criticized by human rights groups and inmate families who allege that prisoners with mental illnesses are often abused, assaulted, neglected and even killed in the prison system.

The institutions with the most use-of-force cases are Union Correctional, Lake Correctional, Santa Rosa, Suwannee and Florida State Prison. With the exception of Florida State Prison, the other facilities all house units that treat inmates with mental illnesses.

Read more here.


December 22, 2016

Former prisons investigator accused of covering up abuse takes job with Leon County sheriff


via @jknipebrown

Jeffery Beasley, who was accused of covering up and thwarting investigations into human rights abuses in the Florida prison system, has resigned, the Miami Herald has learned.

Beasley, the former inspector general for the Florida Department of Corrections, has accepted a post as chief of investigations for the Leon County Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Walt McNeil confirmed Wednesday.

“As is often the case in state government, in particular positions, sometimes you have to carry a burden for higher levels of state government," McNeil said. “I make no excuses for him, but I believe his background and experience and the level of professionalism he displayed throughout his career speaks volumes."

McNeil said Beasley will start Jan. 3.

Beasley’s departure comes a little more than a year after he stepped down from his top cop post at the embattled state prisons agency. In October 2015, he was given a new title — director of investigations — despite months of widespread criticism and allegations that he and others in his office failed to investigate and, in some instances, even derailed cases involving the abuse and even death of prisoners in Florida prisons.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Jeffery Beasley, then-Inspector General of the Florida prison system, testified before lawmakers in 2014. The Florida Channel.

December 06, 2016

Rep. Richardson finds 'horrific' conditions at another Florida prison and against asks 'why?'

David Richardson at GadsdenWhen the inmates at Columbia Correctional Institution started shouting at him during one of his surprise prison inspections, Rep. David Richardson knew something was amiss.

“I’ve done this long enough to know adult males never want to talk to an outsider in a group setting,” said the Miami Beach Democrat.

The fear of retaliation and being singled out by gangs wasn’t enough to silence their need to complain about the problems they faced at the prison: toilets that won’t flush, no hot water, a majority of showers that didn’t work, broken heating system, cell windows jammed shut, head-splitting noise from an exhaust fan.

“The conditions were horrific — unfit for human habitation,” Richardson told the Herald/Times.

After a year focused on inspecting youth offender prisons, visiting 60 facilities and interviewing more than 225 inmates, Richardson made his first visit to Columbia Correctional on Nov. 23. As he often does, he randomly went into a couple of buildings in which inmates were arranged in quads with two-men cells. Story here. 

Photo: Earlier this year, Rep. David Richardson of Miami Beach visits a K-9 training program at Gadsden Correctional Institution, a women’s prison in North Florida. Inmates are in the background. Courtesy of David Richardson


December 02, 2016

Jeff Beasley keeps prison job while whistleblowers create company to 'be a thorn in their side'

Jeffery_BeasleyThe state takes no blame for what former Florida Department of Corrections inspector general Jeffery Beasley has done, but it is paying $800,000 to end a retaliation lawsuit brought by his former employees and is keeping him in a newly created job that pays $116,500 annually.

As “director of intelligence” at the state’s prison agency, Beasley admits that his position was created after the whistleblowers filed their lawsuits and he left the inspector general’s post last fall, according to his deposition in another pending retaliation lawsuit reviewed by the Herald/Times.

He is in charge of the department’s K-9 unit and the security threat group, among other things. He draws “special risk” designation as a law enforcement officer, allowing him to collect a higher pension when he retires. His replacement as inspector general, Lester Fernandez, makes $115,000.

Meanwhile, the three former inspectors, Doug Glisson, John Ulm and Aubrey Land who left FDC this week after it agreed to pay them each $133,000 to resolve their claims against Beasley, are forming their own consulting business, “Capitol Connections Consultants.” They will offer to serve as expert witnesses in future lawsuits against the state and advise other law enforcement officers when their employer has violated the Officers’ Bill of Rights.

“We will be a thorn in their side,” said Glisson on Friday. “We’re not here to protect dirty officers, but if you have someone like us who was getting nailed, we can help. It’s not going to be a full-time job.” Story here.