Jails Commission discusses confinement

04/25/08 Seán Kinane
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In response to allegations of abuse of inmates by Orient Road Jail deputies, including a video of intake deputies dumping a man out of his wheelchair, Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee formed a panel to investigate conditions within the county’s jails. The Independent Review Commission on Jails held its fifth meeting today at the Tampa Port Authority on Channelside Drive.

Col. David Parrish administers the Hillsborough County Jail system. He addressed the commission on the different types of confinement, when an inmate is taken out of the general population. The four types are disciplinary, administrative, psychological and protective custody. Parrish said he reads the newspapers to help him determine whether a high-profile inmate should be housed in the general population or should be placed in confinement.

“There’s many a time when I’ll see something in the paper and I will go, ‘OK, where is that guy housed?’ and find out he’s in general population and I go ‘oh, no he’s not -- that guy’s going into confinement.’”

Most inmates at Orient Road Jail are held under direct supervision in which a guard interacts with dozens of inmates in a pod, rather than being isolated in a guardroom. But for an example of an inmate who was denied direct supervision and placed in administrative detention or protective custody, Parrish mentioned Dr. Sami Al-Arian. "I could not afford for him to be anywhere else," Parrish said. Al-Arian was detained at the Orient Road Jail during much of the time he was awaiting trial and during his trial.

“He was in our jail for three years. That guy never spent a day in direct supervision, there’s no way in the world. I could not afford for him to be in direct supervision and get pummeled by another inmate, or worse, and we wouldn’t even be talking to a group like you, I would be long gone, you know? There are some high-profile people who just have to be placed in confinement overriding their behavior, or charges, or anything because of their notoriety. And we’re held to a different standard in the jail."

Commission member Lorie Fridell is an associate professor of Criminology at USF and is on the Executive Committee and the Board of Directors of the ACLU of Florida. She questioned whether this type of non-disciplinary confinement was typical in other jails.

“I wrote this down as ‘notorious confinement,’ the confinement, as it says in policy, is for death row inmates and other notorious inmates. And I have developed some contacts with other jails and jail experts around the country, and I, too, want to be looking in more depth into that. Because it does look like there’s a cost-benefit analysis and it may be that the cost is to the inmate. It sounds like the benefit is to make sure the jail doesn’t find itself in the press. And so I need to look into that a little bit more and I’m going to be calling some of my contacts around the country.”

A committee reviews confinement on a weekly basis, Parrish said, but he has overruled their decisions. Inmates may also be confined when they are on suicide watch, but according to Parrish, putting four such inmates together is better.

“I much prefer to have them housed in what are called the ‘close observation wards.’ There are two four-person wards at Orient Road … and then we’ll put one deputy inside there with them and that’s where they stay. And when they’re in that, they have no visitation, no recreation, there’s no television, there’s nothing, and that’s it, and one deputy who stays in there with them 24 hours a day.”

But Fridell questioned whether that was the best way to treat inmates who are on suicide watch.

“Well, and that’s something that I want to look into a little bit more, because I certainly understand their number one priority: wanting to keep these people alive. And I want to find out whether the deprivation of all stimulation is necessary to achieve that goal.”

Some members of the Commission asked to be able to view the records of grievances that have been filed by inmates. Parrish said they would be available but emphasized that there is a difference between an inmate grievance and an internal affairs complaint in which a statement must be made under oath. Those will not be public until the investigation has been completed. Parrish said that inmate population is down, and Thursday night was the lowest it has been in years.

As has been typical of the previous four meetings of the Independent Review Commission on Jails, very few members of the public attended Friday’s meeting. Only one person, Al Mccray spoke during public comment. He delivered to the commissioners a 10-page document he wrote called “A citizen’s interim report on the jail crisis.” In 2001, Mccray was disciplined for taking too long to fill out an intake form at Orient Road Jail.

Mccray served 10 days in the Orient Road Jail and said his only bad experience was during intake.

Commission member Clarence McKee, who is president and CEO of McKee Communications, said he is pleased with the progress of the commission so far.

The Independent Review Commission on Jails will release its interim report on May 9. Its final meeting before that report will be on May 5 in the Tampa Port Authority Board Room on Channelside Drive.

Photo caption: Al Mccray addresses the Independent Review Commission.

Photo credit: Seán Kinane/WMNF

Learn more:

Independent Review Commission on Jails

Hillsborough County’s Sheriff’s Office

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