Broken toilets. No hot water. Rows of broken showers. Inoperative heating systems. Cell windows stuck shut. A nearly deafening exhaust fan. This is what greeted Miami Beach Rep. David Richardson when he visited the Columbia Correctional Institution in Lake City last month.
Richardson, who has spent the last year visiting youth prison facilities, made his first visit to an adult facility when he toured Columbia. After announcing to inmates who he was and what he was doing, he was besieged by inmates with complaints – surprising, he said, considering the often dire consequences faced by prisoners caught cooperating with authorities.
“The conditions were horrific — unfit for human habitation,” said Richardson to the Tampa Bay Times.
Conditions like these are not simply annoyances nor just a part of prison life. According to Richardson, the “little things” like a lack of hot water for cooking soup or making coffee can lead to unrest and riots. History has apparently borne this out in Florida, too – a Florida Department of Corrections spokesperson says that the department has had to deal with six events they classify as “major disturbances,” as well as several smaller but serious events.
The latest riot occurred in late November at Franklin Correctional Institution in Carrabelle. Franklin has seen four riots this year, with the most serious occurring in June. At that event, around three hundred inmates attacked a prison guard and destroyed the contents of two housing dorms.
Richardson says the department suffers from a longstanding lack of funding, which has caused the department to fall behind on critical maintenance of the aging buildings. As a result, the maintenance that is done is prioritized in a sort of triage system, where leaking roofs are addressed before hot water problems.
Until the situation changes, it is all but guaranteed that Richardson will continue to prowl the state’s forty-nine prisons in search of answers.
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