Many Florida prison guards who openly associate with white supremacist groups have been identified after targeting their Black coworkers and incarcerated people of color for intimidation, harassment, and violence—but prison officials have failed to take sufficient action, The Associated Press reported recently.
“Some Florida prison guards openly tout associations with white supremacist groups to intimidate inmates and Black colleagues, a persistent practice that often goes unpunished,” The AP’s investigation found.
Former prison inspectors and current and former officers told The AP that Florida corrections officials regularly receive reports about prison guards’ membership in the Ku Klux Klan and criminal gangs with white supremacist affiliations, but few are investigated by state prison inspectors.
Even after an FBI investigation into three current and former Florida prison guards who were KKK members led to their convictions in 2017 for plotting to kill a Black man who was formerly incarcerated, state prison officials refused to investigate the prevalence of white supremacist groups within their ranks.
Last June, three guards who bragged about being white supremacists beat, pepper sprayed, and used a stun gun on incarcerated men of color at Jackson Correctional Facility, The AP reports. A man incarcerated at Jackson reported the two separate incidents to the state, and even though both happened in view of surveillance cameras, the inspector general’s office did not investigate.
“I’ve visited more than 50 (prison) facilities and have seen that this is a pervasive problem that is not going away,” Florida state Rep. Dianne Hart told The AP. “It’s partly due to our political climate. But, those who work in our prisons don’t seem to fear people knowing that they’re white supremacists.”
Officers who report their colleagues’ misconduct have faced harassment and retaliatory firings, according to The AP’s review of allegations in public documents and interviews with a dozen inmates and current and former corrections employees. “Officers are saying their colleagues are members, but they can have me killed,” one former investigator told reporters.
A Black officer filed an incident report last summer after discovering that a white guard had allowed 20-30 incarcerated members of a white supremacist group to meet openly inside the facility, according to The AP. But the report was ignored and the white guard was not punished, and the reporting officer now feels unsafe at work.
Incident reports that allege officer misconduct are often censored by supervisors and ignored by officials, The AP reported.
“This is a pattern all over the country,” said Paul Wright, a formerly incarcerated journalist who helped expose KKK members working in a Washington state prison in the 1990s. “There’s an institutional acceptance of this type of racism,” he told The AP. “What’s striking about this is that so many of them keep their jobs.”
Indeed, in the past two decades, law enforcement officials with alleged connections to white supremacist groups or far-right militant activities have been exposed in Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and elsewhere, according to a 2020 report from The Brennan Center.
“These officers’ racist activities are often known within their departments, but only result in disciplinary action or termination if they trigger public scandals,” the report found.
Most state prisons and police departments do not check whether prospective new hires are members of white supremacist or other extremist groups, a former chief of the FBI’s New York domestic terrorism squad told The AP.
Rep. Hart has called for the FBI to conduct a systemwide investigation into Florida prison guards’ associations with white supremacist groups. The FBI would not confirm or deny to The AP if it has launched an investigation.