TALLAHASSEE – An inmate incarcerated within a Florida prison becomes aware of a corrupt correctional officer who is smuggling in contraband to sell to other inmates.
Or an inmate is being threatened or hurt by either a correctional officers or another inmate. But what can they do about it? How they can report criminal activity behind bars without the risk of retaliation by a corrupt staff member?
As it turns out, there’s an easy solution: a simple phone call made from their dormitory.
In an effort to root out criminal activity within an agency designed to protect the public from criminals, the Florida Department of Corrections is encouraging members of the general public, their own employees, and inmates currently incarcerated in a state prison, to call an anonymous Tips line and report any illegal activity they’re aware of.
The “TIPS” line can be accessed from inmate phones within all DOC prisons by dialing *8477 (TIPS), or by those outside prison walls by dialing toll-free at 1-866-246-4412. Calls are monitored daily by the department’s Office of the Inspector General.
Paula Bryant, spokeswoman for DOC’s public affairs office, said the Department of Corrections’ Inspector General’s Office oversees the prison Tips line, and generally takes thousands of calls each year.
Those calls made to the Tips line are reviewed daily, and the information provided by inmates, DOC employees and the public is used to collect criminal intelligence on unsolved or ongoing criminal activity, both inside and outside of prisons, probation offices and other DOC facilities.
Inmates, convicted felons who are on probation, and any other caller who thinks they have knowledge of any criminal activity related to the prison system can use the Tipline to pass on whatever they know.
“Inmates can call the Tipline to report criminal activity by both inmates and officers,” Bryant said. “They sometimes use it to report crimes outside of prison, or activities involving probationers.”
The calls available to inmates are limited to three minutes each.
“There is a separate Tipline for the public, and we get far fewer calls from that line than the prison Tipline,” she said.
Inmates are able to call the Tipline from the phones in their housing areas and dormitories within their prison. The calls are free to make.
Normally, any phone calls that an inmate makes from their prison dorm get recorded and monitored by the correctional officers who work there. So how can inmates make anonymous calls when their phone conversations are being monitored?
Bryant said the calls made by inmates to Tipline are only heard by the Inspector General’s Office, and not be the prison’s employees.
“Only a small number of individuals have access to the Tipline calls, which are recorded, and all are members of the Inspector General’s Office,” Bryant said. “The calls are anonymous and no, the inmates do not get in trouble for making the calls.”
The Tipline, she added, is “menu-driven and inmates have the option of using a unique mailbox with a code to retrieve messages from the Inspector General’s office in response to their calls — or they can simply leave a message on the Tipline and hang up.”
Most importantly, Bryant said, the Tipline has led to arrests and charges being filed against either inmates or DOC employees – and the line has demonstrated some clear results.
“Yes, tips have led to arrests, dismissals and administrative sanctions,” she said. “They have also led to the locations and removal of drugs and weapons in prison.”
An examples of one of the calls, Bryant said, is that an inmate will call the Tipline and tell the Inspector General’s office of the location of contraband items like cell phones, drugs, and weapons; report seeing another inmate get beat up; report staff misconduct; report fear for their own safety; report visitors bringing in drugs on the weekend; or ask to speak with an inspector.
Last month, an eight-year veteran of DOC was placed under arrest after the corrections officer was charged with bringing contraband into the prison on the Florida Panhandle where she worked.
Jefferson Correctional Institution Correctional Officer Pamela Branch, 46, was charged with trafficking in Oxycodone, identity theft, conspiracy to introduce contraband into the institution and receiving unlawful compensation or reward for official behavior. All of the charges that Branch is facing are felony offenses.
The investigation into this case is ongoing.
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