After brutal inmate beating, protest planned at Ocala prison Saturday

Cheryl Weimar (photo courtesy of Ryan Andrews)

Former inmates and prisoner rights advocates are scheduled to gather on Saturday morning for a rally at Lowell Correctional Institution in Marion County, one of the largest female-only prisons in the country with a history of violence and abuse.

The event takes place just days after attorneys representing inmate Cheryl Weimar filed a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Corrections and four corrections officers at Lowell Correctional. The suit alleges that the guards attacked Weimer two weeks ago, causing life-threatening and permanent injuries, including a broken neck, and leaving her a quadriplegic.

The U.S. Department of Justice opened a federal civil rights investigation last summer into sexual abuse of inmates and other possible constitutional violations at Lowell Correctional.

Saturday’s protest rally will include former Lowell Correctional Institution inmates.

Jordyn Gilley-Nixon, 39, served from 2006 to 20013 at the prison for robbery with a deadly weapon (she went by the name of Jordyn Cahill at the time).  An Ocala resident, she charges that part of the problem at Lowell is a “good old boy system” that isn’t held accountable.

“It’s like a family in there that needs to be dismantled,” she told the Phoenix on Friday. “With the exception of emergency situations, these male officers do not need to be in direct daily contact with the female population. There needs to be an overhaul of who’s in charge.”

That may be difficult to change. The low salaries for corrections officers makes it hard for the Department of Corrections to recruit and retain qualified candidates to serve in the prison system. The attrition rate is nearly at 36 percent, which  Corrections Secretary Mark Inch says no institution can sustain. (Statewide, the Corrections Department had about 3,000 vacant positions, Inch told the Phoenix last month).

Gilley-Nixon says her top suggestion for lawmakers and state officials hoping to improve the prison is to equip corrections officers with video cameras.

At another prison, Lake Correctional Institute near Clermont, it was an inmate’s  surreptitiously recorded video that revealed a group of corrections officers brutally attacking an inmate in July. After the video was smuggled out and released online, three guards were fired and arrested.

The protest is scheduled to take place Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Lowell Correctional Institution, 11120 NW Gainesville Rd. in Ocala.

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