Inmates refuse orders and take control of dorm in new Florida prison uprising

An inmate uprising Wednesday night at Holmes Correctional Institution left several dorms damaged.
An inmate uprising Wednesday night at Holmes Correctional Institution left several dorms damaged.

Florida’s state prisons have resumed “normal” operations despite a disturbance Monday night at Columbia Correctional, the fifth inmate uprising in less than a week, officials said.

About 40 inmates engaged in civil disobedience by refusing officers’ orders and taking control of at least one dorm Monday evening. Prison spokeswoman Michelle Glady said there were no injuries and the incident was brought under control quickly.

Columbia — one of the state’s most violent prisons — remained on lockdown Tuesday. Gang violence has festered in the prison, located in Lake City, in North Central Florida. A corrections officer was stabbed in April.

Since Thursday, inmates have caused trouble at four other prisons, all in the state’s Panhandle, including Gulf Annex Correctional, Mayo Correctional and Jackson Correctional. The most serious melee was at Holmes Correctional, where 400 inmates destroyed several dorms on Thursday.

Julie Jones, secretary for the Florida Department of Corrections, said the disturbances were “quickly and effectively’’ addressed, and she praised her staff and corrections officers for their response.

It’s not clear whether Florida inmates were part of a series of protests planned around the country on Friday, the 45th anniversary of the riots at Attica prison in New York. FDC officials said, that while each disturbance is still under investigation, Florida prisoners have not issued any demands or indicated that their disobedience has any specific purpose.

But the turmoil comes at a time when prisons remain at critical staffing levels, with officers working long hours of overtime to cover shifts. Jones has acknowledged that the facilities are dangerously understaffed and that they narrowly avoided a major riot in January at Franklin Correctional in Carrabelle, also in the Panhandle.

One of the problems generated by the critical staffing levels is that it forces inmates to remain in confined areas with little or no recreation or access to programs. Florida’s prisons are not air-conditioned and, as a result, the idleness has led to aggravation among both inmates and staff.

Inmates involved in any fracas have been moved to other prisons, thereby splitting up gangs and cliques. Jones said the department deployed multiple Rapid Response Teams from other prisons to boost staffing at unsettled facilities.

But union leaders say that leaves inmates at other prisons with even less supervision.

“These riots will continue to increase in frequency, increasing the likelihood that our corrections officers will be injured, said Kimberly Schultz, president of Teamsters 2011, the union representing FDC’s officers.

She said that prisoners have assaulted 30 officers since April and that one prison, Franklin, has had three inmate riots this year alone.