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Many Florida Prison Guards Are Law Breakers

After a review of state records, two Florida newspapers have revealed that state and county prison guards are twice as likely to be disciplined for violations of standards than police officers and that nearly ten percent of Florida state prison guards have criminal records.

The Orlando Sentinel reviewed records from the Florida Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission and found that 769 out of 26,000 state and county prison guards were brought up on charges ranging from excessive force and sexual assault to bringing in contraband during an 18 month period from January 1998 to June 1999. During the same period, 559 of the state's 40,000 police officers faced disciplinary action.

Richard Coffey, chairman of the commission, said: "There has been an explosion [of new jobs] in the corrections field and they are recruiting heavily. There is less pay and a lot less competition. The Department of Corrections is more interested in getting people than a high quality of people."

According to the St. Petersburg Times, DOC statistics show at least 1,560 of Florida's 16,000 state prison guards, or 9.75 percent, have been charged with a crime in the past five years. Most of the offenses are small, such as shoplifting, marijuana possession or poaching. But 11 guards have been convicted of violent crimes and two are repeat offenders, according to the Times.

DOC rules prohibit hiring anyone convicted of a felony or first degree perjury. But almost anybody else is eligible, including those with misdemeanor drug and assault convictions and even felonies committed before 1981.

Guards with criminal arrest records seem to be concentrated in the state's   maximum security prisons. According to the Times, 89 of 511, or 17 percent, of Florida State Prison guards (where X-Wing prisoner Frank Valdes was beaten to death by guards)[PLN Oct. 1999]   have arrest records and 53 of those were found guilty of at least one charge or received deals in which charges were reduced or findings of guilt were withheld.

Some experts question whether it is reasonable to expect guards who can't behave themselves on the outside to use force judiciously on the inside.

"If you have a person that has been convicted of assaultive behavior, obviously they are out of control," said Thomas J. Archambault, head of TJA Training Resources Group, a Vermont company that trains prison guards. "And you don't want an out-of-control person in a position of controlling people."

Sources: Associated Press, St. Petersburg Times, Orlando Sentinel

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