More than 100 law enforcement officials from the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department, the Florida Highway Patrol and other agencies were called to the Hamilton Correctional Institution Annex on Friday after some of the 100 inmates in the recreation field began acting out, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.
Hamilton County Sheriff Harrell Reid said his office got a call from a prison official at 11:20 a.m. asking for assistance. The official said there was a riot and that some inmates were fighting each other with shanks.
Michelle Glady, prison system spokeswoman, denied it was a riot or even a serious disturbance. She has denied that an ongoing nationwide prison “strike,” organized and promoted by activists, had fueled disobedience in Florida, despite sporadic reports of inmates refusing to eat or carry out work assistance.
The situation was handled with no injuries to the staff or inmates, Glady said.
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She said inmates were shouting at staff during the incident and that she had not heard that the inmates had shanks.
The facility is located about 30 miles northwest of Lake City in North Florida.
“This event is over, and everything is completely under control,” she said.
Glady said officers from responding agencies never entered the facility and acted to secure the perimeter.
“Any time there’s a situation, you want to take an abundance of caution and that’s what our staff did,” she said.
Activists have been promoting a nationwide strike, Aug. 21 to Sept. 9, to call attention to what they say is abuse of inmates around the country, including in Florida, which has the third-largest prison system. Multiple civil rights lawsuits have been filed against the Florida Department of Corrections, alleging cruel and unusual treatment.
Deaths of Florida inmates are at an all-time high, and staffing levels are often so inadequate that officers are forced to longer shifts and extra shifts. Unpleasant conditions can be exacerbated in the summer by the lack of air conditioning.
In recent months, the Florida Legislature has announced cutbacks in programs that prison advocates say are essential to rehabilitating inmates and keeping them busy. In May, the prison agency said it would have to cut mental health, substance abuse and re-entry programs to help make up for a $50 million shortfall in its healthcare and pharmaceuticals budgets. The cuts would also include prison chaplains and librarians.
“First and foremost, it’s our responsibility to ensure the security of individuals in our custody and to make certain their human and constitutional rights are upheld while incarcerated. Healthcare is one of these constitutional responsibilities,” FDC Secretary Julie Jones said in a news release at the time. “We’ve unfortunately had to make some very difficult decisions.”
The prison strike movement has gained momentum in recent months, with renewed efforts by activists to draw attention to prison violence, especially in Florida, where gangs, drugs and weapons have led to dangerous and deadly incidents.
Glady said there is no indication that Friday’s incident occurred in connection with any national movement or organization.