by Jo Ellen Nott
On August 5, 2022, the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) warned employees that certain t-shirts worn by visitors to state prisons “are considered inflammatory and a potential threat to security.” So what messages on the t-shirts sparked this clamp-down?
“I Love My Visits”
“Stand Up for Visitation”
The shirts were created by Florida Cares, a nonprofit advocacy group for incarcerated individuals and their loved ones, after DOC proposed cutting prisoner visitation by half in early July 2022. The proposed modifications would also reduce the amount of non-family-member visits. Current rules allow prisoners flexibility to include family and non-family members, but the new proposal calls for no more than five of a prisoner’s 15 allotted visitors to be non-family.
The August email from DOC’s assistant deputy secretary of institutions, Hope Gartman, instructed prison staff to allow visitors wearing the t-shirts to visit their loved ones on the weekend of August 6, 2022, but to warn them that on future visits the attire will not be allowed.
Denise Rock, the executive director of Florida Cares, claims the intention of creating the t-shirts was to inform people of the policy change proposal. Rock is in communication with DOC officials and said she hopes to keep a conversation going which will result in “an amicable solution for everyone.”
But Tracy Zuluaga, executive director for the Post-Conviction & Returning Citizens Alliance, accused DOC of “want[ing] to cut visits by 50 percent.”
“Right now, we only have about 25 percent of their year to begin with, so now we’re going to go down to 12 percent,” Zuluaga said. She believes DOC does not want the incarcerated population to know about the proposed visitation policy modifications, hence the ban on t-shirts with messages opposing it.
The proposed changes will possibly not receive final approval. DOC has taken just the first step by posting its initial notice. Now the Joint Administrative Procedure Committee (JAPC) must meet to decide if the proposed changes are within the authority of the agency. In 2018, similar proposed changes were not approved when JAPC decided they were contrary to the commitment to encourage family reunification.
Source: Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel
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