The families of Florida prisoners are fighting back after the Florida Department of Corrections announced a change to visitations schedules. According to the Miami Herald, dozens gathered in Tallahassee on Tuesday (April 3) for a public hearing held to discuss the new guidelines, which will slice visits from every weekend to twice a month.
The new rules were introduced due to staff shortages and an influx of contraband, including drugs, cell phones, and weapons, officials said.
“We are not to blame for the increase in contraband,” said Judy Thompson, whose son has been at Florida State Prison in Raiford for nearly two decades. “It’s important to be able to visit, to be able to look into someone’s eyes, to talk with them. For many people, that’s all they have.”
Lisa Teets, another parent of an inmate, echoed Thompson’s sentiments. “We’re not bringing in the contraband. It’s them,” Teets, of West Palm Beach, said in regards to prison staff.
Teets visits her son on weekends and holidays, and said that she is thoroughly patted down multiple times during each visit. Though her son will be released “within a year,” she doesn’t want the visitation schedule changed. “He’s not violent, He needs to know that he still matters,” she said. “This is my [worst] nightmare.”
Michelle Glady, FDC spokesperson said officials aren’t trying to place blame on anyone in particular. “The thought process is to look at the entire system and find every way that we can prevent the contraband from coming in.”
But a former inmate said that much of the contraband comes from prison staff. Kyle Williford, who was released last week after serving three years, testified that corrections officers funnel in drugs and alcohol to sell to inmates. “These men and women have to watch child molesters, rapists, murderers, and they get paid as much as your average Wal-Mart employee. No one can fault them for supplementing their income,” he said adding that the new policy “shows a gross ignorance.”
Williford, 30, admitted to buying alcohol from corrections officers, and doesn’t believe that the “volume” of heroin, cocaine, meth, and more, could have come from visitors.
“Each dorm is essentially a flop house. It’s a party house,” he explained. “There are people passed out in their own throw up on a daily basis, nodding out, etc. For that much heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines, MDMA, synthetic marijuana, tobacco and alcohol to be in that institution, it’s a physical impossibility that it could come through the visitation parts.”
He also pointed out that “violence is deterred by visitation.”
“The contact visitations are a powerful thing and it saves a lot of lives,” said Williford who was in solitary confinement when he learned of the scheduling changes. “Say someone bumps into you in the chow hall. Are you going to hit him in the mouth for disrespecting you? No you’re not, because your daughter and your wife are coming to see you on Saturday so you swallow your pride and you finish your meal. These are everyday occurrences.”
The FDC originally planned to implement the restrictions this weekend, but decided to hold off until another hearing can be held.
Florida has the third largest prison system in the nation. As of November 2017, the state housed close to 100,000 inmates across 148 correctional facilities.