Editorials

Cruel, unusual — and incompetent

TROUBLED FACILITY: Dade Correctional Institution the site of unexplained deaths and brutality.
TROUBLED FACILITY: Dade Correctional Institution the site of unexplained deaths and brutality.

There’s management and then there’s crisis management. But the folks running Dade Correctional Institution have excelled in a whole new category: crisis mismanagement.

If lifer Ronald “Psycho” McCoy’s escape from the South Miami-Dade facility were an one-off, an aberration, that would be cause for concern.

However, his ability to take flight was aided and abetted by lax security where it should be the most rigorous. Staffers might as well have just held the gate to freedom open for McCoy.

McCoy, serving two life sentences and with a history of carrying out violent crimes, got away some time Halloween morning. But several hours passed before authorities at DCI alerted state prison officials. Then it took another five hours for anyone to lift a finger to call the police. Miami-Dade police were notified that a violent felon was on the loose at 5:15 p.m. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement was alerted half an hour after that. Homestead officers got the word at about 6 p.m. And the media were not alerted at all. The Miami Herald learned of the escape independently. Only then, at about 6:30 p.m., did corrections issue a press release. That means that McCoy had a advantageous head start, courtesy of the Dade Correctional and the authorities at the state level. Nearby residents, indeed, South Floridians, were left in the dark, and vulnerable.

Corrections authorities at every level have been mum as to why it took so long to alert law enforcement of McCoy’s escape.

All of which is cause for deep and abiding worry — to say nothing of the need for a top-to-bottom independent investigation of this facility. This is where, as the Editorial Board implored in the past, the U.S. Justice Department should step in. If DOJ was disturbed enough to swoop in several years ago and investigate the Miami Police Department’s serial shooting of young unarmed black men and bring the department to heel, can it do any less with a state corrections department where in one facility alone, torture, deaths — and now an escape — reek with the stench of official coverup and obfuscation?

McCoy was captured three days later in West Palm Beach driving a stolen pickup truck. That episode is over, but the systemic problems that led to the escape; allowed mentally ill inmates to be brutalized and die under corrections officers’ “care”; silenced whistleblowers; and slow-walked — if not outright blocked — attempts to investigate or bring criminal charges endure.

Two weeks ago, before McCoy made his getaway, DCI Warden Les Odom announced his retirement. He had been in the position only three months, having replaced Jerry Cummings, who was forced out after corrections officers shoved an inmate into a stall where he died in a scalding hot shower. Mr. Cummings has since spoken up, telling the Miami Herald that DCI is a roiling mess: Understaffing leaves officers’ stations unmonitored; “ghost” officers, who aren’t actually on the job, report for duty; employees smuggle drugs to inmates; and security breaches are so common that he’s surprised escapes don’t happen more often.

Does the aggrieved Mr. Cummings have an ax to grind? Likely. Does that mean his allegations should be dismissed? No, not in the wake of the horrors that already are on the record about DCI. A broader, more comprehensive — and independent — investigation into the failure of DCI authorities to protect those inside the prison, or outside, is long overdue.

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