BUSHNELL, Fla. - Fears of possible violence have led the Florida Department of Corrections to put prisons on a partial lockdown and cancel visitation at all state prisons this weekend.
The first-of-their-kind measures coincide with a planned demonstration in Washington this weekend that prison officials worry will spark outbreaks of violence within prisons directed at DOC employees.
The lockdown began Thursday at the Sumter Correctional Institution, which houses 1,600 inmates.
Probation officers were called in to assist guards in searching the prison for contraband, like phones and weapons.
The Florida Department of Corrections issued the following statement:
The Florida Department of Corrections foremost responsibility is to ensure the safety of Florida communities, staff and inmates. In response to credible intelligence indicating that small groups of inmates at several institutions may attempt to disrupt FDC operations and impact safety and security, FDC has taken steps to enhance the security of its institutions across the state this weekend.
“There are groups and gangs and different things in there and they get together worse than they do out here,” said former prison guard Leroy Sanders. “It’'s quite a job. You have to be on your p's and q's. They've got all kinds of ways of getting things into the compound. You'd be surprised at the things they get in there.”
We talked to a five-time convicted felon, who spent time at Sumter Correctional Institution.
He didn’t want to be identified because he is still on probation, but said it’s easy to get cell phones and weapons inside the facility.
He said DOC employees should be concerned “at all times”.
The threats are tied to a movement that began last September in commemoration of the 45th anniversary of the Attica Prison riot, in which inmates took control of a prison in New York state leading to 43 deaths.
Last year, there was property damage at three Florida prisons, but no serious injuries.
“They're gonna hurt an officer every chance they get,” said the convicted felon.
“I pray for those guys, because they've got a tough job,” said Sanders.
The partial lockdown involves 97,000 Florida inmates in nearly 150 facilities.
Extra staff has been called in or put on stand-by this weekend in case something happens.