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Grand Jury Slams FL Prison, Again

By Paul Wright

Glades Correctional Institute (GCI) is a medium security prison located near West Palm Beach in Florida GCI is no stranger to controversy. In PLN, Vol. 5, No. 9, we reported audits showing that GCI officials were paying $5.42 a tube for Pepsodent toothpaste for Muslim prisoners. The toothpaste still had price tags showing it retailed for 97 cents a tube. In a fourteen month period GCI officials claim to have spent $8,453 on toothpaste for roughly 100 Muslim prisoners at GCI.  The March 15, 1994 report by the state inspector general concluded that the high cost was due to the fact that GCI's purchasing manager was a personal friend of the president of C&C Industrial Supply, the Belle Glade company that sold the toothpaste. Even after this finding, the manager was never disciplined.

In Turner v. LaMarca, 995 F.2d l526 (11th Cir.1993) a federal court found that prisoners were routinely raped and brutalized with the full knowledge and acquiescence of prison staff during the 1970's and 1980's. More recently GCI made headlines when six Cuban prisoners convicted of murder escaped from the prison on January 2, 1995, by tunneling out from under the chapel.  One of the prisoners remains at large as we go to press, one was killed by police and the other four have been recaptured.  As a result of the escape a state grand jury in West Palm Beach has issued a damning report based on its investigation. It also charged the prison's inspector with one felony and six misdemeanors

In its report the grand jury stated "We are absolutely outraged that the legislature of our state would allow this kind of facility to operate in our community. Building prison beds alone is not the answer!" The grand jury found GCI security to be "severely inadequate" and said the prison was "grossly over-populated and ripe for a riot."

GCI prison inspector Paul Wellborn was indicted on one felony count of witness tampering and six counts, one for each escapee, of negligence. Wellborn turned himself in to police and was released on $3,000 bail pending trial. As prison inspector Wellborn's job consisted of investigating prison employees accused of misconduct. He reported directly to the superintendent and had been at his job less than a year when the escape occurred. GCI chaplain Dorris Miller told Wellborn on December 20, 1994, that an informant had told her that several prisoners were going under the chapel and spending a lot of time there. Wellborn told Miller he would "<%1>take care of it" and that the prisoners were probably making wine. A secretary overheard the conversation and confirmed it. Both the secretary and Miller passed lie detector tests. On January 10, 1995, the indictment alleges, Wellborn went to Miller's home and attempted to intimidate her into changing her account. Wellborn took a lie detector test and the results were "questionable" according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). Wellborn was placed on administrative leave after being indicted.

The grand jury relied on an FDLE report which found widespread incompetence and corruption at GCI, including drug sales and prostitution, according to assistant state attorney Joe Marks and FDLE inspector John Doughtie. The prison's problems also include overcrowding and failing security equipment. The FDLE stated that no GCI staff member was found to have been involved in any criminal activity that contributed to the escape. This was despite FDLE investigators stating that the escapees had bought two flashlights from a guard for $15 which they used in their tunneling. Escapee Hector Rivas told the FDLE that they had bought wire-cutters used in the escape from a guard he would not identify.

Marks characterized GCI as a "dumping ground" for incompetent DOC staff. GCI warden Gerald Abdul Wasi was transferred there in November, 1993, in the aftermath of an escape by three prisoners at Polk Correctional Institution. Marks noted that 77 GCI employees have criminal arrest records. The grand jury reported "A number of correctional officers cannot read or write." The grand jury made numerous recommendations in its March 10, 1995 report, none of which are binding on the DOC. The DOC in turn blamed the legislature for a lack of funding for repair and maintenance and low staffing levels.

As Yogi Bera would say, this is deja vu all over again. On July 16, 1981, then GCI warden Turner (the defendant in the above cited federal case) wrote a letter to his superiors in Tallahassee which described the prevailing atmosphere at GCI: "On almost a daily basis I feel that our security staff is simply being tolerated by an inmate population rather than being in control of the operation of the prison." According to the district court in that same case, GCI prison officials made "little or no effort... to control illicit activity at GCI." Prisoners carried knives and openly used drugs. The appeals court in that case noted: "The contraband problem was compounded by staff corruption, as prison officials contributed to, and apparently profited from, the contraband, and utilized prisoners to 'control' and punish other prisoners."

As a result of those conditions, a jury ruled in favor of the prisoners (later reversed on appeal) which lead to the highest damages award against prison officials in Florida history (readers should note that on the remand from the eleventh circuit the plaintiffs in LaMarca lost their case at trial, thus they actually received no damages despite the earlier award), an earlier Palm Beach County Grand Jury issued an equally scathing report. That grand jury report which the LaMarca plaintiffs used, recommended change at GCI in light of "accusations of drugs, alcohol and other contraband, gambling, theft, confiscation, and payoffs among inmates and personnel of GCI." Apparently nothing was done about that grand jury report. It appears quite likely that after making concerned noises, the Florida DOC will ignore this grand jury report yet again. While the Palm Beach Post article did a good job detailing the current grand jury report, it made no mention of the historical background of scandal, corruption and mismanagement at GCI.

Source: Palm Beach Post, March 11, 1995 and PLN

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