TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (The News Service of Florida) - Tearful, angry and fearful family members of Florida inmates pleaded with state corrections officials Thursday to abandon proposed changes to visitation rules that could cut in half the amount of time they can spend with their locked-up loved ones.
The Department of Corrections is proposing a change that would allow the agency to limit prison visits --- which can now take place on Saturday and Sunday, in addition to holidays --- to every other weekend.
Under the proposed rule, changes to the “standard” visitation schedule would be implemented on a prison-by-prison basis and would be based on a variety of factors according to DOC Assistant Deputy Secretary of Institutions Richard Comerford.
“We’ll evaluate that visitation schedule based on institutional security, staffing, safety and security of the inmates, visitors and staff, the maximum capacity of these parks, the numbers of visitors and the frequency of contraband that’s introduced into our facilities," said Comerford.
The proposed changes eased off an original plan, floated last month, which could have allowed prison officials to impose the reduced visitation schedule throughout the prison system and reduce the current six-hour daily visitation period to two hours.
But the modifications, while welcome, did little to calm the concerns of dozens of people who urged corrections officials to drop the plan altogether.
Former inmate Kyle Williford says visitation tends to keep prisoners on their best behavior.
“If there are key players in a dormitory who have visitations approaching, they are not going to let anything violent happen in there because that could jeopardize their visitation," said Williford.
Many family members and former inmates who spoke at the hearing said most contraband is brought into prisons by overworked and underpaid correctional officers, not by visitors.
There are nearly 100,000 people locked up in Florida prisons.