Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Romano: Why broken prisons could lead to prison breaks

In no particular order, this is what concerns people most about prisons:

1. They should be built far from my home.

2. They should be absolutely secure.

And that's pretty much it. You might hear some protesting about inhumane conditions. You might hear someone arguing that the Department of Corrections doesn't put enough emphasis on either education or drug rehab to cut down on recidivism.

Otherwise, the welfare of prisons is not a typical conversation starter.

And yet, because this is Florida, and we rarely do anything with either logic or foresight, that's probably a mistake.

Turns out, we have some serious economic problems in our prison system, and that just might make those facilities less secure and worry-free than we've been led to believe.

Last week, union officials representing corrections officers asked the state to call an emergency legislative session because Florida's prisons were "a ticking time bomb." Considering the union has a vested interest and has some internal politics going on, as well, you might be tempted to dismiss the "ticking time bomb" business as mere rhetoric.

But, less than a year ago, an independent audit of Florida prisons determined they had a "staffing emergency" and were at increased risk of murders, riots and escapes.

And a few months ago, Gov. Rick Scott and DOC Secretary Julie Jones asked for funding to hire more than 700 new guards. The Legislature provided 215 in its budget.

So what does all of this mean?

Perhaps ticking time bomb is not total hyperbole.

A prison in Franklin County has had three disturbances already this year, including a riot in June in which about 300 inmates took over two dorms for three hours. In a Lake City facility, a guard was stabbed and several others injured in a melee in April.

State Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, has visited more than 40 Florida prisons in the past year to check on conditions for inmates and other issues, and has come away concerned that the state is wasting money by trying to save money.

Prison guards have not had pay increases in more than eight years — the average salary is less than $32,000 — and turnover is rampant. Guards are put through a 13-week training course and often, after a short time on the job, leave for more money to work at county jails or for other law enforcement agencies.

The result is the state's prisons are constantly understaffed and ridiculously inexperienced. And when you've got unhappy and overworked guards, chances are you're going to have mistreated and unhappy inmates. That can lead to incidents and lawsuits.

Richardson had no plans to make prison reform a crusade, but the more he investigated conditions, the more he was convinced that the entire culture needed to be addressed.

The problem is few others in the Legislature seem to care.

"Somebody said to me, 'You'll never get a single vote or campaign contribution out of a prison, so why are you doing it?' " Richards said. "Sometimes you do something just because it's right.

"Even if you don't have an ounce of compassion for the inmates or the officers, if you focus on the fiscal side … there is a way to do this better, reduce the (prison) population and use that money for other state priorities."

As usual, it is a matter of shortsightedness in Tallahassee. Legislators want to cut instead of invest. Even when cutting costs more money in the long run.

This isn't strictly about protecting inmates from overworked guards. And it isn't solely about protecting guards from mistreated inmates.

It's about protecting the prison system from a political time bomb.

Romano: Why broken prisons could lead to prison breaks 07/11/16 [Last modified: Monday, July 11, 2016 8:21pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. How Jameis Winston's turnovers doomed the Bucs again

    Bucs

    The Bucs' rise or fall is based on the play of quarterback Jameis Winston. His failure to take care of the football was arguably the biggest factor in their 34-17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings Sunday.

    Jameis Winston has turned the football over 25 times in 17 road games. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
  2. Wrenching photos show hurricane battered Puerto Rico on brink of crisis

    Hurricanes

    SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — As life in Puerto Rico grinds on nearly a week after Hurricane Maria knocked out all the power, most of the water and left people waiting in excruciating lines for fuel, Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló said the island was on the brink of a "humanitarian crisis" and it was up to Congress to …

    Residents bathe in a natural spring in the hill town of Toa Alta, Puerto Rica, Monday, Sept. 25, 2017. As life in Puerto Rico grinds on nearly a week after the Category 4 storm knocked out all the power, most of the water and left people waiting in excruciating lines for fuel, Gov. Ricardo Rossello said Monday that the island was on the brink of a "humanitarian crisis." [Victor J. Blue | New York Times]
  3. New 'Game of Thrones' concert experience coming to Amalie Arena in Tampa

    Blogs

    More music is coming.

    A new, live Game of Thrones concert experience is coming to Amalie Arena in Tampa on Sept. 21, 2018, the venue announced today. That may seem like a long way off, but with no new season on HBO's immediate horizon, that's probably the next taste of Game of Thrones you're going to get for a …

  4. Epilogue: Stu Arnold, founder of Auto Trader magazine

    Human Interest

    From his living room table, Stuart Arnold pasted Polaroid photos and typewritten ads onto pages that became the Auto Trader magazine.

    Stuart Arnold, 82, was the founder of the Auto-Trader magazine, which grew to become one of the largest classified magazines in the country. He died Sept. 11, 2017.
  5. Former Tarpon Springs High principal sues man who called in 2015 death threat

    Civil

    The former principal of Tarpon Springs High has sued a man who threatened to come to the school and kill him in 2015, saying the man started a chain of events that harmed his life and career.

    Tarpon Springs High School was the scene of a 2015 incident where Edward S. Ecker called the school to threaten then-principal James M. Joyer. Joyer has filed a lawsuit saying Ecker set in motion a chain of events that harmed his life and career. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]