Prompted by a short video promoting a Miami Herald investigative series on problems at Lowell Correctional Institution, the Florida Department of Corrections issued a statement Thursday denouncing the series in advance.
The video and still-unpublished series are both titled Beyond Punishment. The video provides brief scenes of past and present inmates as well as a former corrections officer, who refer to “sex, money and corruption” at the facility, Florida’s main women’s prison.
In the statement to “members of the media,” the department wrote: “This Sunday, the Miami Herald will publish the first of a series of articles focusing on allegations of misconduct at Lowell Correctional Institution and Lowell Annex, a group of facilities north of Ocala housing nearly 3,000 female inmates.”
“Over the course of the past year, the department has worked with the Herald on an almost daily basis, providing an interview with Warden Angela Gordon, thousands of pages of public records, and answering hundreds of inquiries regarding these facilities. Recently, the Herald requested an interview concerning their story with Secretary Julie Jones, who happily confirmed her availability for an interview on Friday, December 4. Unfortunately, due to terrible and unforeseen family circumstances, the secretary was unable to accommodate the interview.
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“Although the Herald did initially provide a list of interview topics, when the department requested that the Herald work together with our agency by providing questions in writing so that we could be responsive to their request, the paper refused.”
The statement quoted Secretary Jones as saying: “When I joined the Department of Corrections in January, the Lowell facilities were poorly managed and lacked the leadership necessary to properly operate a correctional institution. Within the first 45 days on the job, I removed the leadership team at Lowell and appointed Angela Gordon as Warden. Ms. Gordon has served the Department of Corrections for more than 20 years and is a proven leader who has devoted her time at Lowell to improving operations through promoting supervisory accountability and leadership for staff.
“Thanks to Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature, the department has received the appropriations and support needed to begin capital improvements, as well as hire more than 115 new employees at these facilities, including five sergeants, four lieutenants, four captains, one major and one colonel. Although it is unfortunate that the Miami Herald has chosen to present these allegations in a news article instead of reporting them to the proper authorities, we remain committed to thoroughly investigating their claims to ensure that those responsible for misconduct of any kind are held accountable.”
Attached to the statement was an email listing relevant FDC policy, procedural and staffing changes at Lowell. It was provided to the Herald on Wednesday as journalists were making preparations for publication.
Although it is unfortunate that the Miami Herald has chosen to present these allegations in a news article instead of reporting them to the proper authorities, we remain committed to thoroughly investigating their claims to ensure that those responsible for misconduct of any kind are held accountable.
FDC Secretary Julie Jones
The Herald is publishing an edited version of that document in conjunction with its series. Those edits were shared with the department in advance. The original emailed document from FDC will be attached to this story on MiamiHerald.com.
In response to the FDC statement, Herald Executive Editor Aminda Marqués Gonzalez said: “We appreciate the department’s cooperation in providing records and relevant information, for which the Miami Herald has paid thousands of dollars.”
“Those records are the basis for the issues raised by our reporting and should come as no surprise to the department. We also outlined those issues in our most recent request for an interview with Secretary Jones’ top deputy, since the secretary is indisposed. He was not made available. We would welcome comment before publication.”
The editor said the Herald has a lawsuit pending against the department over access to public records.