By Christopher Zoukis
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the nation’s main workplace safety enforcer, has cited the Federal Correctional Institution in Miami, Florida for a variety of unsafe or unhealthy practices violating federal occupational standards.
On June 5 this year, FCI Miami – which houses 1,325 male inmates — was formally notified that OSHA inspectors would be visiting the facility in December last year and again in June of this year had found a long list of violations. The violations included leaking ceilings and general uncleanliness in work areas, and mold growing in several areas of the prison (including the inmate education building and the employee break room).
The facility had earlier had some of the same violations (such as the persistent problem with mold) flagged in March of last year. For the latest round of violations, OSHA ordered FCI Miami to abate the violations by June 29.
In addition to the cited violations, OSHA also included warnings (a less severe step than issuing citations) for such shortcomings as operational failures which allegedly exposed FCI Miami staff members to unreasonable risks. For example, the agency claimed inmates with records of violent attacks had been transferred to the low-security Miami prison, where guards were neither adequately equipped or trained to deal with the hazards such inmates presented. As a result, several corrections officers were injured in attacks by inmates.
In a similar case, OSHA noted three female workers were either attacked or sexually harassed by one inmate who had been transferred from a high-security Level Four facility to FCI Miami, a Level Two prison. OSHA’s citation of FCI Miami’s weaknesses noted the security staff in Miami did not seem to have had proper training in conflict-resolution methods or to have adequate access to video surveillance, alarm systems, other safety equipment, or counseling after an incident.
Other warnings included such other lapses as workers missing necessary safety equipment or insufficient bathroom breaks. OSHA also noted employees at the Miami prison had failed to file required federal reports detailing on-the-job injuries.
The latest round of violations is far from the first controversy about FCI Miami’s safety record, or the first time the facility was severely compromised. Back in 1992, Hurricane Andrew leveled much of FCI Miami, as well as the state’s Homestead prison, then known as the Dade Correctional Institution.
During hurricane season last year, the union representing corrections officers in central Florida protested having some of its workforces dispatched to augment security at FCI Miami during Category 5 Hurricane Irma, the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded. The union noted that FCI Miami had been evacuated during four major hurricanes the previous year, but the next year, the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) elected not to do so during Hurricane Irma.
When the powerful storm reached Miami-Dade County last September, guards at FCI Miami reported the facility flooded and lost power for days. The mayor of Miami-Dade County ordered residents to evacuate the part of the county where FCI Miami is located (Florida officials ordered the evacuation of a total of 6.5 million residents overall), and – unlike BOP’s decision not to evacuate FCI Miami — Florida state prisons opted to evacuate over 7,000 of their inmates from Irma-threatened areas.
Christopher Zoukis is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons, (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014). He regularly contributes to New York Daily News, Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News. He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com, PrisonEducation.com and PrisonerResource.com.