By Panagioti Tsolkas, FightToxicPrisons.org
In February, the Florida Department of Corrections announced intent to start a new visitation schedule, known as Rule Change, 33-601.722.,that could leave a mere fraction of options available to prisoners and their families. Currently, visitation is allowed every weekend, from 9am to 3 pm, plus holidays. This averages over 50 hours of possible visitation a month. Proposed cuts would allow FDOC to provide half of the days (alternating weekends) and as little as two hours per visit, leaving an average of around 10 hours per month.
It was been studied and reported that frequent visitation is a driving force for prisoner rehabilitation (in the cases where that is needed). Visitation improves the rate of successful re-entry back into society and is proven to reduce recidivism rates—where currently over a quarter end up back in prison within three years.
Despite that, FDOC says that cuts are needed in an effort to reduce contraband. But by their own data, only 2.5 percent of all contraband recovered enters through visits. This leaves 97.5 percent unaccounted for, and that points primarily to FDOC staff themselves bringing in the drugs, weapons and cell phones.
These cuts come on the heels of the #OperationPUSH prisoner strike launched in January, on MLK Day, where cell phones were used to communicate with the outside world about the protests and repression without fear of retaliation from violent guards.
A public hearing was held at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, April 3 in Tallahassee. Despite only one week’s notice, over 100 people drove for hours across the state to provide comments on the rule change.
Florida is already one of the worst states for prison visitation (as it is with other bad prison policy and abysmal record of abuse.) New York state prisons, for example, still have visitation seven days a week. An effort by their governor to cut back to weekends, in favor of expensive video calls, was defeated last year by public opposition.
These cuts in Florida are coming in tandem with a new private contract to provide video calling service for $2.95 for 15 minutes. FDOC says the cuts and the contracts are not related. But those who spoke at the hearing, some who had decades of dealing with FDOC, repeatedly indicated no reason to trust the agency. All signs point to lobbying by the now-merged multi-million dollar contractors, JPay and Securus, as another major factor this decision.
The cuts were supposed to go into effect on a trial basis April 7. That has been delayed by public opposition, though they could still take effect in the coming months, if FDOC chooses to ignore public input.
Written comments concerning the policy change can be submitted until April 13, addressed to: FL Department of Corrections, Attn: Gregory Hill, Office of General Counsel, 501 S. Calhoun St., Tallahassee, FL 32399, or emailed to: CO-GCAgencyClerk@fdc.myflorida.com
Specific language for the proposed rule change can be found on the FDOC’s website: https://www.flrules.org/gateway/notice_Files.asp?ID=20211228