In June, three Florida prison guards who boasted of being white supremacists beat, pepper sprayed and used a stun gun on an inmate who screamed “I can’t breathe!” at a prison near the Alabama border, according to a fellow inmate who reported it to the state.
The next day, the officers at Jackson Correctional Institution did it again to another inmate, the report filed with the Florida Department of Corrections’ Office of Inspector General stated.
“If you notice these two incidents were people of color. They (the guards) let it be known they are white supremacist,” the inmate Jamaal Reynolds wrote. “The Black officers and white officers don’t even mingle with each other. Every day they create a hostile environment trying to provoke us so they can have a reason to put their hands on us.”
Both incidents occurred in view of surveillance cameras, he said. Reynolds’ neatly printed letter included the exact times and locations and named the officers and inmates. It’s the type of specific information that would have made it easier for officials to determine if the reports were legitimate. But the inspector general’s office did not investigate, corrections spokeswoman Molly Best said. Best did not provide further explanation, and the department hasn’t responded to The Associated Press’ August public records requests for the videos.
Some Florida prison guards openly tout associations with white supremacist groups to intimidate inmates and Black colleagues, a persistent practice that often goes unpunished, according to allegations in public documents and interviews with a dozen inmates and current and former employees in the nation’s third-largest prison system. Corrections officials regularly receive reports about guards’ membership in the Ku Klux Klan and criminal gangs, according to former prison inspectors, and current and former officers.
Still, few such cases are thoroughly investigated by state prison inspectors; many are downplayed by officers charged with policing their own or discarded as too complicated to pursue.
“I’ve visited more than 50 (prison) facilities and have seen that this is a pervasive problem that is not going away,” said Democratic Florida state Rep. Dianne Hart. “It’s partly due to our political climate. But, those who work in our prisons don’t seem to fear people knowing that they’re white supremacists.”
The people AP talked to, who live and work inside Florida’s prison system, describe it as chronically understaffed and nearly out of control. In 2017, three current and former Florida guards who were Ku Klux Klan members were convicted after the FBI caught them planning a Black former inmate’s murder.
This summer, one guard allowed 20-30 members of a white supremacist inmate group to meet openly inside a Florida prison. A Black officer happened upon the meeting, they told The AP, and later confronted the colleague who allowed it. The officer said their incident report about the meeting went nowhere, and the guard who allowed it was not punished.
The officer spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not cleared to discuss official prison business. They told The AP that, after the report went nowhere, they did not feel safe at work and are seeking to leave.