In Need of Correction

A new report finds that Miami-Dade jailers have low morale, high overtime pay, and laughable oversight

County jailers sometimes deal with strange cases. Take the matter of 38-year-old Jeffrey Allen, convicted of burglary in 1991 and sentenced to seven years of confinement. He has an interesting background. His 80-year-old wife Margaret (they've been married eleven years -- her hairdresser introduced them) says Allen sold her television, antiques, and car to finance his crack habit. But he's been drug-free for years, she says. "We get along excellently," she adds. "I don't think he's ever said a cross word to me."

Well, maybe not to her. But on August 16 Allen argued with guard Eugene Hayes about a food tray. One thing led to another, as sometimes happens in jail, and Allen awoke in the hospital with a fractured jaw, a broken nose, and head injuries.

Now internal investigators are studying the case. But if the past is any indication, they won't reach a conclusion any time soon. In fact, the corrections department's Internal Affairs unit "is considered a joke," according to a recently released report on the unit's problems. The report, by former corrections director Fred Crawford, concluded that the IA unit's investigators were undertrained and not widely respected.

The stinging inch-thick report also cites other problems in one of Miami-Dade's largest and fastest growing departments. Among them: Officers have chronically low morale and little confidence in current corrections chief Donald Manning; and overtime expenses are so unbridled that some officers now earn more than $100,000 per year.

Crawford suggests some novel ways to solve the problems. For instance, when it comes to morale he urges department leaders to send out birthday cards to staff and to "endeavor to learn the name of each of their subordinates and strive to use them."

County Manager Merrett Stierheim ordered the report several months ago after officers complained about racial strife, favoritism by management, and explosive growth of the inmate population (currently a little more than 7000). Stierheim is still deciding on his next step. "Clearly there are problems," he comments. "Now it becomes my responsibility to fix them."

Crawford's study so alarmed Manning that he quickly compiled a lengthy tome disputing many of the "observations." For instance, Manning writes that overtime spending is down. A check with the corrections budget office shows that overtime cost taxpayers $17 million out of a $198 million budget last year. This year it's $13 million. In general, Manning contends, his unit corrections is running more efficiently than ever: Morale is improving, overtime costs are decreasing, and the department is indeed "encouraging interested employees to celebrate birthdays."

But even Manning has difficulty arguing with the fact that internal investigators are not overly swift. A panel of civilians recently chided IA for taking nearly four years to conclude a probe of the jailhouse beating of inmate Frank Dennis.

Crawford, referring to an unnamed guard recently arrested by Metro-Dade police for bringing drugs into one of the jails, contends that "the corrections department's Internal Affairs unit was not aware the 'bust was going down.'" Manning obstreperously disputes that claim.

In any case, Crawford recommends that the IA unit set deadlines, perhaps 30 days, to complete investigations. Inmate Allen thinks that's a good idea. Nearly three weeks after his run-in with Hayes, he mumbles through a jaw that is wired shut: "They haven't talked to me yet, and this guy almost killed me." Allen's wife Margaret misses him. "He's very good in bed," she sighs. The state plans to charge Allen with battery on a law enforcement officer, says department spokeswoman Janelle Hall.

Perhaps authorities are waiting for Allen's jaw to heal before asking him any questions.

 
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