NewsLocal NewsI-Team Investigations


Visitor nearly denied entry to Florida prison, told to take prosthetic leg 'back to the car'

Department of Corrections says incident was 'resolved by the Warden, to ensure it was handled appropriately in the future'
Polk County Correctional Institution
Posted at 10:17 AM, Nov 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-01 18:38:55-04

POLK COUNTY, Fla. — A woman was nearly turned away from visiting her loved one in a Florida prison due to her disability. She's now calling for change and pushing the Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) for accountability.

Continuing the ABC Action News series, Crisis in Corrections, the I-Team turned its attention from the state's treatment of prisoners to the treatment of loved ones who visit them.

“My daughter and I went up as we do every weekend, and I was in front of the line pretty much, and when we walked in, they have a security, like a metal detector where you walk through. And it went off, and it didn’t cause me no concern because it always does. Because I’m an amputee and I wear a prosthetic," Denise Swisher told the I-Team.

Swisher said it was during a recent trip to Polk Correctional Institution to visit an incarcerated loved one that she encountered an officer she had never seen before.

“He was like, ‘Well, where is your card?’" she said.

Denise Swisher talks to ABC Action News I-Team investigator Kylie McGivern
Denise Swisher talks to ABC Action News I-Team investigator Kylie McGivern

The Florida Department of Corrections website says if the alarm on a metal detector is "caused by a medical implant that is not visible," the visitor must provide a medical doctor's note. Nothing on the visitor information page, nor in anything FDC could provide the I-Team, addresses disabilities like Swisher's.

"I told him, it’s a visible, you know, disability. It’s not – no internal, so they don’t give us that. All I have is a handicap placard. And he told me that I could not come in to the facility wearing my prosthetic. Then he informed me that I needed to take it back to the car. And then I started crying," Swisher said, talking about her prosthetic leg.

She said she was upset and embarrassed.

“I offered to take off my prosthetic, and I said, can you give me a chair, and I’ll take it off? He told me no," Swisher said of one of the corrections officers. "So you want me to go and take my leg and put it in the car, get down on the ground and drag myself through the parking lot, through the dirt."

Swisher had her 4-year-old daughter with her at the time, who didn't understand what was going on, she said.

"She kept saying, ‘It doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t hurt,’” talking about her prosthetic, Swisher said.

She said the corrections officer taught her daughter what discrimination is.

"Now my daughter knows there’s something wrong with Mommy," Swisher said. “Before that day, she didn’t know.”

Swisher was eventually let in after she said another officer intervened and vouched for her.

Denise Swisher

She later received a phone call and email from the warden apologizing, saying she advised captains and lieutenants "to ensure that all officers who are assigned to the visitation park are trained."

Still, Swisher said, she never received the incident report she requested from Polk C.I., nor has she learned what happened to the corrections officer who told her to take her prosthetic leg back to the car.

“I felt like it’s just been swept up under the rug, and I’m not going to let that go. I’m not. I’m not. Because there’s so many people in this world who has a disability. A physical or a non-physical, but we need to be respected just like everybody else," she said.

The Department of Corrections denied the I-Team's request for an interview and provided only a statement:

"FDC strives to treat all visitors with dignity and respect while balancing the safety and security needs of the facility. Thoroughly searching all visitors is absolutely essential to the safe operation of correctional institutions. The incident described in your email was resolved by the Warden, to ensure it was handled appropriately in the future."

The statement did not answer the I-Team's questions about how it was resolved and what policies are in place that would prevent a similar situation from happening again in any other state prison.

To look at the bigger picture, the I-Team turned to Philip Fornaci, a senior attorney with the National Disability Rights Network, an advocacy organization established by Congress.

"A disability cannot in itself be a security issue," Fornaci said. "It’s simply unacceptable. Similarly, you would not tell someone who used a wheelchair showing up at the door, ‘Well, sorry, you’re going to have to lose the chair.’"

Fornaci said situations where there are metal detectors, are "virtually everywhere," saying these types of incidents, "they’ve been happening for a long time, despite there being more than 30 years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

While FDC offered to reach out to Swisher directly, Swisher said she had yet to hear from them. She reported what happened to the U.S. Department of Justice.

“I’m not going to stop speaking up about it," Swisher said. "Changes need to be made.”

If you've had a similar experience trying to visit a loved one in a state prison, the I-Team wants to hear from you. Call the I-Team tip line at 813-354-2837 or email or You can also contact Disability Rights Florida and the Department of Justice.