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Rick Scott, Governor
Florida Department of Corrections, Secretary Julie L. Jones

Florida Department of Corrections
Julie L. Jones, Secretary

Florida Corrections:  Centuries of Progress

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Inmate population
June 30, 1978:

The Florida Department of Offender Rehabilitation is renamed Florida Department of Corrections.

Interstate Compact for the supervision of parolees and probationers, the Corrections Compact, and the Agreement on Detainers are combined and placed under the jurisdiction of the Department of Corrections. On June 30, 1978, Florida has 6,378 parolees and probationers under out-of-state supervision.

The Florida Youthful Offender Act is created, "largely in response to the dissatisfaction of judges regarding the lack of disposition options between the adult correctional system and the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services juvenile justice training schools," according to the Florida Corrections Commission's 1989 Annual Report. The Act, and subsequent revisions of the Act, defines who is eligible to be a youthful offender; requires separate facilities for them, and establishes criteria for assignment and transfer of youthful offenders, in addition to other requirements. Today there are eleven Youthful Offender facilities in Florida: Lake City Correctional Facility (privatized prison), Lancaster Correctional Institution (C.I.) and Work Camp, Sumter Basic Training Unit (Boot Camp), Brevard C.I. and Work Camp, Hernando C.I. (youthful and adult), Lowell C.I. and Lowell (female) Boot Camp, Indian River C.I. and Taylor C.I. Annex.

Polk Correctional Institution (Polk City, FL) and Baker Correctional Institution (Olustee, FL) open.

During a two-week period in November 1978, there is an unprecedented number of incidents at prisons in Florida, including escapes, accidental death and murder. Prisons are overcrowded and tension is high.

Inmate Dies in Tunnel Escape

On November 15, 1978 during the 6:00 p.m. count, inmate Jerry L. Grainger was discovered missing from Sumter Correctional Institution and presumed escaped. The institution staff searched the compound area and checked the perimeter fence and were unable to locate tracks. Five days later, information was received by the Superintendent that inmate Grainger was possibly dead in a tunnel underneath the laundry room. A search of the laundry area revealed freshly dug dirt. A tunnel was uncovered and Grainger's body was found at 7:05 a.m. the next day. Grainger was serving life with a mandatory 25 years for sexual battery.

Three days later, the unthinkable would occur.

Escape from Death Row

On Saturday, November 18 Robert Fieldmore Lewis, 31, became the first and last inmate to escape from Death Row in Florida. Lewis had a correctional officer's uniform hidden in a visiting room at Florida State Prison and put it on during visiting hours. Sometime during visiting hours, he dressed in the officer's uniform and, wearing a fake moustache, Lewis approached the prison's main gate. He told the officer, who was new on the job, that his wife was in a car accident and someone was waiting to drive him to her. The officer, who was later terminated, let him out of the gate. (In the officer's defense, he was up in a perimeter tower and it would have been extremely difficult to identify the inmate from that range.) Lewis was a free man for 11 days before being recaptured by the FBI in Santee, South Carolina.

Lewis was on Death Row for the January 27, 1977 shotgun murder of Joseph Richards. Lewis' death sentence was overturned in 1982, but the conviction was upheld and he was resentenced to life in prison. He was given six additional years for the escape. He died of natural causes on July 22, 2001.

"Fascinating, incredible scheme"

But the original escape plan had been much more elaborate. Seven people were later indicted for participating not only in the Lewis escape, but for planning the escapes of four additional Death Row inmates by bombing a guard tower in a helicopter assault on the prison. Subsequent to this revelation, Florida State Prison, which no longer houses the majority of Death Row inmates, made some renovations to its facility to ensure that similar plans would fail. The plan was aborted when Lewis was arrested by the FBI.

Ed Austin, the Duval County State Attorney, was quoted as saying the plan to remove the inmates by helicopter was such a "fascinating, incredible scheme" that they didn't believe it at first.

According to an article in the Florida Times Union on March 30, 1979, the plan was as follows:

Drawing of building and escape route

"After one of the guard towers was bombed, the site where the helicopter was to land would have been protected from gunfire from two other towers by wings of the prison building. The escape was planned for a scheduled time when Death Row inmates are in their special exercise yard. The inmates would have climbed the yard fence while the guards in the remaining towers were distracted by the bombing on the third tower. After the escapees boarded the helicopter and it began to rise, it would have been protected because of the tower roofs which would not allow the guards to position their rifles to a high trajectory."

Changes that Resulted

As a result of the Lewis escape, numerous changes were made at Florida State Prison regarding Death Row inmate visits and more stringent requirements were made for passage through all gates at FSP. In addition, only experienced officers are now allowed to man those gates. As a result of the Lewis situation, DC staff from the Assistant Superintendent on down were disciplined. Three officers were fired, three were demoted, two were suspended and two were reprimanded. Another DC employee was singled out for positive attention.

Inspector Ed Sands

A December 7, 1978 letter to Mr. Wainwright by Special Agent in Charge John W. O'Rourke of the FBI states the following:

"It is timely to mention the outstanding cooperation between our organizations which resulted in the successful apprehension of Lewis in South Carolina on November 29, 1978. In particular, we would like to recognize the outstanding performance of Prison Inspector-Investigator H. Edward Sands, who was assigned to work with Special Agents of our office to locate Lewis. Other members of the Prison Inspection Staff should also be commended."

In an April 9, 1979 letter to DC Secretary Louie L. Wainwright, State Attorney Ed Austin concurs:

"Now that the dust has settled around this conspiracy and the investigations surrounding it, I wanted to take a minute to express my appreciation for your personal cooperation and assistance. From the first day of our investigation to the last you were totally cooperative and helpful in every way. Your personal support of the investigation was clearly reflected by your assistants and investigators through their willingness to forge ahead independently and in cooperation with the overall investigation. I particularly wanted to bring to your attention the fine work of your investigator, Ed Sands. His aid, as our man on the "inside," was invaluable. His service was exemplary and without his help the investigation would have taken longer and may not have been as successful. As a matter of fact, every person in your department who was asked to assist in any way did so quickly, efficiently and successfully. Unfortunately, the media coverage of the investigation and indictments did not properly credit your Department for its extensive and key role in the investigation. I regret that proper credit was not given, but I know you are satisfied with a job well done."

Two days after Lewis escaped from FSP's Death Row, two other inmates from FSP made their escapes.

Two FSP Inmates Escape Via Laundry Truck

On November 20 at about 3:44 p.m., inmates Raymond Despres and Ralph Magna escaped from the garment factory at Florida State Prison via the Sally Port Gate in a vehicle driven by a prison employee who was unaware that they had hitched a ride. Both Despres and Magna were serving life sentences. The inmates had concealed themselves inside cardboard containers containing clothing from the garment factory. Even though, as is required, the driver was seen walking on top of the bundles of clothing to make sure no inmates were inside, the inmates were not discovered. The driver drove his load to the receiving dock, and witnessed an inmate jump from the back of his truck. The driver gave chase and yelled for assistance. Escape and recapture plans were put into effect.

FSP Colonel Tom Barton dispatched the K-9 unit and at approximately 4:50 p.m. inmate Magna was apprehended in the underbrush next to the warehouse. The search for inmate Despres continued with the placement of vehicles at various State Roads throughout the area. Foot patrols were also employed. At about 1:45 a.m., Colonel Barton ordered that the track dog be placed on the ground in the area directly in front of the warehouse. The track dog struck a track and led officials to inmate Despres, who was found hidden under a palm tree. He was taken into custody at about 2:01 a.m. November 21.

Despres got eight more years for the escape and died in 2003 while serving his sentence. Magna got three more years for the escape and is currently at Okeechobee C.I.

One of the recommendations that resulted from this incident was that the garment factory no longer package clothing in containers for shipment.

It is difficult for laymen to understand the culture of a prison system; how some with little to lose can equate life with packs of cigarettes, for instance. The following illustrates that point.

FSP Inmate Stabs Another Over Cash, Cigarettes

On November 23 at approximately 1:10 p.m. in the dining hall at Florida State Prison, inmate Bobby Earl Lusk stabbed inmate Michael Hall three times in the back with an 8-inch stainless steel shank (homemade prison knife). Hall was rushed to the Medical Department and was pronounced dead at approximately 1:15 p.m. Lusk, who was serving a life term, said he did it because earlier in the day Hall had robbed him of 16 dollars and seven packs of cigarettes. Eyewitnesses said that after Hall was stabbed, he threw his food tray at Lusk while Lusk yelled "Fall, you mother******, fall. This is what happens to anyone who rolls me." After locking the doors, Sergeant C.W. Blevins walked up to Inmate Lusk and Lusk handed him the shank.

Lusk got an additional life term for the murder. He is currently at Union Correctional Institution.

In what one officer called "escape fever," two inmates at Union C.I. escape one week after the FSP escapes. One of these escapees will make another escape attempt three years later, and ultimately fail again. Today our classification system is designed to flag inmates such as these as escape risks and, if warranted, to keep them separate from each other to reduce the chances of them teaming up for another escape. In addition, we have more prisons today, giving classification officials more options in moving and separating inmates who are escape risks.

Two Inmates Escape from UCI via Perimeter Fence

On November 27 at 7:40 at night, a correctional officer saw an inmate climbing the outer perimeter fences at Union C.I. An emergency count revealed inmates Billy Bryant, Jr. and Louis Ayendes missing. Escape and recapture plans were implemented and local law enforcement notified. The fences were examined and two strands of barbed wire were discovered cut.

Ayendes was recaptured a few hours later at his mother's house by the Union and Bradford county Sheriff's Departments. Records of the exact date of Bryant's recapture are unavailable, but he was resentenced to prison on August 14, 1981. He was paroled on October 30, 1990. Ayendes' sentence expired in 1990.

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