Whistleblowers: Officers Having Sex with Inmates, Extreme Heat, Other Safety Concerns Plague Local Prison
Last updated 8/22/2023 at 5:55pm
BROOKSVILLE – In recent weeks, several Correctional Officers at Hernando Correctional Institution (HCI) contacted R News to report serious safety concerns among officers and inmates.
Out of fear of retaliation and for their personal safety, the officers we spoke to asked that we not reveal their true identities.
Officer "Jennifer Smith" tells R News that the recent extreme temperatures are creating serious health and safety concerns for the inmates and officers. Smith says there is no air conditioning, rarely cold drinking water, warm to hot showers, and they force inmates to go outside three times per day in the extreme heat. Smith says the average temperature inside a dorm at night is 89°, with a feel-like temperature of 108°. There are exhaust fans in the facility, but they do little to help, says Smith.
According to HCI policy, a sergeant and an officer are supposed to be assigned to each dorm, but she says they are so short-staffed that officers are often placed in a dorm alone with up to 75 overheated, angry prisoners, many of whom have a history of extremely violent crimes. If she was attacked or a fight broke out, Smith says it would take several minutes for help to arrive.
Smith says, "It's inhumane not to provide cold water to these prisoners. They are already doing their time – it's just cruel."
Officer "Kim Davis" echoes much of what Smith alleges but goes on to say, "The officers in charge of work squads are not provided with any kind of hydration and cannot go get their own because they cannot leave their work squads. So, they bake out in the sun, exhausted, with no water, with no food, and most of them get extremely dehydrated which leads to severe headaches."
Davis says the violence inside the facility is getting out of control. "We had a stabbing weekend before last, lock in a sock last week, and several shanks were found. We even had an inmate death not long ago, which might have been preventable, had the officers done their jobs properly." Davis goes on to say, "We have officer/inmate relationships to which none of the three have been charged and another is still under investigation. All within the past year." In addition, Davis says there are two Lieutenants (male and female) under investigation for having relationships with officers to whom they give special privileges."
According to Florida Statute, it's a third-degree felony for a correctional officer to have sexual relations with an inmate, and if found guilty, they also have to register as a sex offender.
Not unlike other facilities, officers also allege that "Drugs running rampant, that several grams of fentanyl, meth, and Suboxone have been confiscated from inside the dorms. The amounts coming in are ridiculous."
Davis says, "Warden Tamera Poynter is one of the most grieved wardens in Florida. The retaliation at this facility is unreal. The Warden has a job-killing reputation throughout the state since she let her Assistant Warden take the fall for her screw-ups, forcing him into retirement after 40 years of service."
R News attempted to contact Warden Poynter, but she has not responded to our requests for comment. We did speak with the Department of Corrections Deputy Communications Director Paul Walker who said, "The Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) has air-conditioned housing units serving the most vulnerable inmate populations, including the infirmed, mentally ill, pregnant, and geriatric. New institutions are designed with air-conditioning, but many current FDC facilities were constructed prior to air-conditioning being commonplace and were instead designed to facilitate airflow to provide natural cooling within them. All non-air-conditioned dorms use some form of climate control to mitigate heat, such as fans or exhaust systems, which create a high level of air exchange to cool the building. These housing units also incorporate other fans, such as ceiling or wall-mounted circulation fans. In addition, all housing units contain refrigerated water fountains to provide a source of cool water for the inmate population." The officers we spoke to say Walker's response is not true and that conditions in their facility are not meeting the state standards.
Walker denies any allegation that officers are left alone in a housing unit or that they are engaging in inappropriate activities.
HCI is located at 16415 Spring Hill Drive, next to the Hernando County Detention Center.
R News will continue to follow any developments regarding the allegations made against HCI and Warden Poynter.