DOC culture and history enable cover-ups

06/16/2014 6:42 PM

06/16/2014 6:42 PM

Having worked as a counselor in the same psychiatric unit where Darren Rainey was killed, I can personally attest to the cover-up mentality of the Florida Department of Corrections. Many inmates on my caseload filed months and months of grievances regarding abusive behavior by guards that were never addressed.

In a beating incident I refused to stay silent about, guards employed a rather sinister strategy to pressure a staffer to back off.

In an eerie coincidence, on June 23, 2011, a year to the day before Rainey was killed, an inmate named Joseph Swilling was handcuffed behind his back and briskly escorted to a hallway to meet his fate. Out of sight from cameras, he was thrown to the concrete floor and kicked repeatedly by correctional officers.

The beating would have continued unchecked if not for the timely intervention of my co-worker, who pounded on the window while yelling, “Stop! Stop! Stop!” Out of fear of retaliation, this co-worker wrote on the incident report that he/she did not see anything.

As counselors, guards escorted us into sessions with violent inmates, some of whom were mentally unbalanced. Guards were required to monitor the session through large windows. Any counselor who incurred the wrath of correctional officers would be left without security.

The guards’ strategy was to simply leave the counselor alone with the inmate.

One counselor I know of resigned believing her life was in danger. As a result, most counselors stayed silent even after witnessing multiple instances of abuse, torment and beating.

Given the documented failures of the DOC on many levels, it is essential that an independent agency be established with a mandate to provide transparency. This agency would be charged with at least three major duties:

• Investigation of incident reports, inmate grievances and any other documentation of abusive behavior of guards by on-site investigators. Immediately interview all witnesses.
• Collection and processing of all inmate grievances.
• Installation, maintenance and monitoring of all cameras; replacing all outdated cameras and recording devices with high definition or HD equipment.

Ideally, the agency would be given the power to make arrests when warranted.

As it stands now, the Department of Corrections only fires guards who are caught on camera — even when they have badly beaten an inmate.

Grievances are often hijacked by guards who in turn taunt the aggrieved inmate. During my tenure, the cameras were often broken and the recordings grainy to the point of being useless.

The Florida DOC, like many large organizations, cannot be trusted to regulate itself.

It is time that it gets pulled into the new millennium — dragged kicking and screaming, if need be. After all, that is what the DOC understands.

George Mallinckrodt is a psychotherapist who worked in the psychiatric ward at Dade Correctional Institution for almost three years.

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