As this series on Lowell prison entered final preparations, the Florida Department of Corrections, which declined to have a high-ranking official speak, sent the Miami Herald a lengthy email detailing the department’s long-standing policies. Those policies prescribe what supplies an inmate is allocated and how often, from bars of soap to sanitary napkins.
The policies prohibit any sort of abuse of inmates, sexually or otherwise, and set forth disciplinary procedures.
BEYOND PUNISHMENT: A MIAMI HERALD INVESTIGATION
They spell out protocols for treating pregnant inmates.
The email said Lowell has specific programs to help women inmates bond with their children, including a Mommy Reads initiative, in which a select number of inmates are able to record themselves reading a book aloud every three months. Their children are given the book and the recording, so the kids can remotely “read along” with their mother.
The department said it has recently implemented a long list of policy upgrades, staff changes and safeguards at Lowell and in the prison system at large. And that physical improvements to the facility are in the works. Among the items it cited:
Gov. Rick Scott recently approved the FDC’s full capital improvement request of $35.9 million for the coming budget year, including nearly $700,000 for Lowell, following several years in which nearly all proposals for capital improvements for Lowell were rejected by lawmakers. The Lowell items incorporated into Scott’s budget plan:
▪ Reroof administration building ($210,308).
▪ Replace overhead electrical with underground utilities ($450,000).
Additionally, the department said, it has the following projects planned for future budget years, pending legislative and gubernatorial approval:
▪ Reroof main unit canteen ($60,588).
▪ Reroof vocation building ($217,653).
▪ Reroof maintenance building ($37,214).
▪ Demolish E, F, G Dorms and Old Confinement. Replace with two new open-bay dorms ($3.09 million).
▪ Upgrade perimeter lighting $310,000).
▪ Reroof D Dorm — the dorm for pregnant women ($27,030).
▪ Reroof B Dorm ($177,444).
▪ Install/upgrade telecommunications infrastructure cabling ($174,900).
▪ Gate tower construction ($200,045).
▪ Reroof warehouse ($185,720).
Since Jan. 1, 2015, the department has dismissed 19 individuals at Lowell, demoted three, suspended three and issued 43 written reprimands. There have been 115 new hires, including 100 corrections officers, five sergeants, four lieutenants, four captains, one major and a colonel. On Feb. 13, Secretary Julie Jones appointed Angela Gordon as warden of Lowell Correctional Institution, Lowell Annex and Lowell Work Camp. Gordon was previously the warden of Marion Correctional. Additionally:
▪ FDC Procedure 208.039, Employee Counseling and Discipline, has been updated to outline the standards of conduct and to establish guidelines for administering disciplinary actions.
▪ Florida Administrative Code Chapter 33-208.003, Range of Disciplinary Action, has been updated to reflect the expectations for standards of conduct and the new levels of discipline for rule violations.
What this means is that the department’s discipline procedure is being updated to establish guidelines for administering disciplinary actions and ensure that discipline is administered fairly. To make sure that these changes are understood, the department is taking steps to more clearly communicate these guidelines to all employees. FDC is currently working to codify this in the Florida Administrative Code.
An employee handbook has been developed and is in the final stages of preparation. It addresses standards of conduct expected of all employees. The handbook speaks specifically to the “high-liability” areas for the department, such as staff/inmate/offender relationships and excessive and/or unauthorized use of force. The handbook makes clear that this behavior will not be tolerated, the department said.
The department said that since the start of July, 52 Lowell inmates have completed their high school education and 80 Department of Education-sanctioned vocation certificates have been issued.
Prison Rape Elimination Act
Forty-two prisons, including some privately run under contract with the state, have been audited by a U.S. Department of Justice-certified PREA auditor in the current three-year cycle.
Lowell facilities, including the Florida Women’s Reception Center, are scheduled to be audited on April 4, 2016. Also:
▪ There is a new PREA training video for English-speaking inmates with a facilitator’s guide for reception centers and permanent facilities.
▪ In the past, inmates who made a claim of sexual misconduct by staff or another inmate were placed in confinement, a more restrictive form of incarceration, with no immediate way back into the general population.
Henceforth, they will be able to request a return to general population and the department will have to make a ruling within 72 hours.
Lowell has surveillance cameras in “secure housing units” (confinement, close management, Death Row, etc.) but will soon get 60 of them in the open-bay dorms, which are currently not covered by cameras.