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Rick Scott, Governor
Florida Department of Corrections, Secretary Michael D. Crews

Florida Department of Corrections
Michael D. Crews, Secretary

Time Well Served: A Century of Corrections
(Continued, 1922-1949)

Florida discontinued the convict leasing system in 1923 and as a result, the number of convicts in prison increased. In 1927 prison industries also expanded, opening a shirt factory and an auto tag plant. The main housing unit (called "The Rock") was built in 1928, and officers there worked 12-hour days in return for $720 yearly plus quarters and meals.

During the Twenties and early Thirties, the State Prison Farm grew rapidly under the direction of Superintendent J.S. Blitch. Recognized by the Legislature as doing an outstanding job, he reduced expenses by 50%, even though the inmate population had increased 100%. This explosion in numbers now required compliance to a strict regimen.

Sweatbox
Sweatbox

Discipline included the use of leg-irons, shotgun squads, chain gangs and sweatboxes. Sweatboxes were small buildings into which inmates were placed to stand for hours, even days, often with two or three others. Another common device, called an American Collar, pressed a metal thong against the neck.

Capital punishment meant death by hanging. Prisoners were hanged in the county seats, usually in the yard of the courthouse. Contrary to how it is depicted in the movies, hanging was a complex procedure. An error in determining the condemned person's weight, or the use of an incorrect length of rope, could result in decapitation.

Sometimes, the public sold souvenirs and cotton candy at executions. Whole families attended. According to one reporter, the whole thing took on a festival-like quality. The Legislature found it unseemly.

The electric chair was seen as a humane alternative to the gallows. State lawmakers approved its use in 1922 and a year later inmates built Florida's electric chair from oak. Murderer Frank Johnson became the first man to die by electrocution in 1924 in the execution chamber at Raiford.

In the early Twenties approximately 40 correctional officers worked at Raiford, each earning $35 per month plus board. The inmate population was 485.

The Legislature created the State Road Department and State Convict Road Force in 1917. Inmates continued to work on roads in chain gangs.

By 1932, Raiford's inmate population numbered more than 2,000 men and women. There were 85 employees on the payroll, including officials, correctional officers, matrons and other employees. Glades Correctional Institution opened in Belle Glade.

That same year Leonard Chapman became Raiford's new warden. He discovered things weren't as orderly as they appeared. Chapman knew things had to change, and several landmark changes were made under his stewardship. He served 25 years at Raiford, implementing a strong philosophy about good health, education, work habits and positive contact with the community.

He prohibited using the word "convict," encouraging "inmate" instead. He introduced uniforms for staff. He offered grade school classes, and courses in carpentry, millwork, plumbing and auto mechanics. Chapman even replaced the old solid barriers with chain link fence so prisoners would see the world beyond.

Like today, in the early Thirties Florida prisons held high-profile inmates. One of them was Giuseppe Zangara, who attempted to assassinate President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt in Miami in February 1933. He shot at Roosevelt and missed, instead mortally wounding Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak, who was traveling with Roosevelt. Zangara was executed in the electric chair approximately a month after his trial.

Interestingly, in 1935 inmates began producing cigarettes at a factory in Raiford. From that time until 1972 the tobacco was distributed in pouches along with rolling paper. The brand was called "Dee Cee Smoking Tobacco." After 1972 the state switched to rolled cigarettes until the practice ended in 1978, due to increasing knowledge about health risks.

By the end of the '30s, lawmakers ordered prisons to discontinue dressing inmates in horizontally striped prison uniforms.

Those years seemed a gentler time. Jim Brown Godwin remembers growing up on prison grounds at Raiford where his father worked. The boy grew up with a favorite horse named Dan and played football and baseball with inmate teams. In those days he said "the pear trees bore so much fruit on their limbs they had to be propped up with boards to keep the fruit off the ground." Many years later, in 1955, Godwin's father, Assistant Superintendent J.G. Godwin, was shot and killed by an inmate.

The 1940s brought continued change within the prison system. In 1941 the Parole Commission was established.

To support the war effort, in 1943, inmates addressed and mailed ration books to Florida citizens. They also contributed $12,000 toward the purchase of war bonds.

In 1945 wearing of leg irons was eliminated.

By the end of the decade, an increasing awareness of specialized populations led to a new facility for youthful male offenders, Apalachee CI in Sneads. Seven years later, the first adult female facility, Florida CI, opened in Lowell.