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Florida Legislator Tackles Abuse of Juvenile Prisoners

by David M. Reutter

A Florida legislator who was disturbed by publicized accounts of violence being inflicted on the state’s juvenile prison is using his experience as an auditor to get to the bottom of the problem and recommend change.  To his surprise, The Secretary of Florida’s Department of Corrections (FDC) is listening and acting on the information.

As PLN has reported, Florida prisoners under the age of 19 have been subjected to abuse from guards and “test of heart” from gang members upon entry into a prison.  That story detailed the May 7, 2013, attack on prisoner Gesnerson Louisius, who was severely injured when a broomstick was rammed up his rectum by other prisoners.

State Rep. David Richardson read the story, originally published by the Miami Herald, and set on a mission to end such abuse.  He drew on his 30 years of experience as an auditor unraveling corporate and financial malfeasance.

Using a state law that allows legislators unlimited, unannounced access to the state prisons, Richardson began showing up at prisons housing juveniles to poke around and interview prisoners.  He considered Sumter Correctional Institution “ground zero for officer-on inmate violence.”  Prisoners told him that as new arrivals they were routinely “punched, choked, or hit or slapped by an officer.”

Visits to Lancaster Correctional Institution led Richardson to conclude that neither increased staffing or video cameras will make the prison safer.  “It has everything to do with the physical layout,” he said.  He described Sumter as a “hellhole with another bad layout not conducive to unruly prisoners.

“In the dorm style settings, they sleep with a towel wrapped around their face so they won’t be cut,” Richardson learned.  “I’ve had many of them show me the scars on their heads and faces from the cuts.”

Richardson reported his findings to FDC Secretary Julie Jones, who took over the scandal-ridden agency in January 2015.  “We’ve been very collegial and very open to everything he’s had to suggest,” Jones said.  “I think he thought we would circle our wagons, close up shop, and somehow push back…and we have not.”

In fact, Jones closed Lancaster to juvenile prisoners and are moving them to Sumter and Lake Correctional Institution.  One move to Sumter resulted in a mini-riot that required guards from the Rapid Response Team from local prisons to respond.  Dozens of prisoners were emergently transferred or had the “YO” status removed.

In some cases, former YO’s moved to the adult section of Sumter have successfully integrated into the general population without incident or being a disciplinary problem.  Richardson’s visits also resulted in tighter control of brooms and other implements used by juveniles for illicit use.

“My goal is to make change,” Richardson said.  “I have seen a lot of improvement since I have been doing this work.  I think the word is out that I’m going to be showing up, and I’m going to be interviewing inmates.” 

Source:  Miami Herald

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