Broward County

Quiet night in Florida prisons after 2 days of disturbances

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.

Firefighters were summoned to fight a minor blaze at Columbia Correctional Institution overnight, but no new uprisings were reported by the Florida Department of Corrections Saturday.

The fire happened in an area that was not occupied by inmates and is not considered suspicious, officials said.

As of Saturday morning, only two of the state’s 143 prisons were on lockdown: Holmes and Gulf Correctional, in Florida’s Panhandle.

The unrest comes as grassroots prison advocacy groups have called for a nationwide strike to protest what they call “slave-like” conditions and inhumane treatment at prisons across the country. Florida officials have not confirmed that the uprisings here are related to the national movement.

The disturbances began Wednesday, with a siege at Holmes Correctional, in Bonifay, Fla. More than 400 inmates took control of at least five of the seven dorms before the situation was brought under control by riot squad officers using tear gas. On Friday, the revolts continued at Gulf and Mayo correctional institutions. There were no reported injuries, according to the Department of Corrections,

State corrections officers and commanders attempted to keep order during what was touted as a protest to to coincide with the 45th anniversary of the infamous riot at Attica prison in New York.

Michelle Glady, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Corrections, said Friday that smaller protests were reported in other prisons across the state. Most of them involved inmates who refused to perform their work assignments.

In Florida, inmates do most of the maintenance and labor to run the institutions, including mowing grass, repairs to facilities, cleaning and other day-to-day jobs. They receive no pay for these chores, but do earn “gain time,” which is a certain amount of time off their sentences. However, because the state has a law that forces inmates to serve out 85 percent of their sentences, they get a limited amount of gain time — no matter how much work they perform. Some inmates maintain that they are forced to work long shifts without a break.

Inmates also work in communities performing general labor and road work. For some of these jobs, they are paid — but less than $1 a day.

In Fiscal Year 2013-14, the Department of Corrections’ Community Work Squad inmates performed almost 5.4 million hours of work, valued at more than $76 million, and after costs, provided the state with a net cost savings/value added of approximately $45 million, according to FDC’s website.

Florida’s prison system, the nation’s third-largest, will remain on high alert the rest of the weekend. Visitation has been cancelled at Holmes and Gulf.

Earlier this year, the department saw disturbances at Jackson Correctional, Franklin Correctional and Okaloosa CI, in addition to prior trouble at Gulf.

Florida prisons are dangerously understaffed, and many of the state’s 100,000 inmates are forced to remain in restricted areas —with no outdoor recreation — because there is not enough staff to supervise them outdoors.

Glady said Friday the Florida disturbances are not in protest of “inhumane conditions’’ or abuse, but rather, lesser issues, such as not being able to have recreation or vocational programs; the quality of the food and lack of access to the canteen, where they can purchase stamps to write to their family, or buy packaged food or toiletries.

The movement was organized by several national groups, including the committee for Incarcerated Workers, which is part of the International Workers of the World, a national labor union. Inmates from 24 states were scheduled to participate in the non-violent protests.