Retired corrections officer speaks about prison conditions

A retired sergeant with the Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) is speaking out about conditions inside the women's prison in Ocala.

Donald Stanton says he worked inside the Lowell Correctional Institution for about 15 years and retired in 2017.

"Few years ago, they put in cameras. They're not where everything is covered. The sergeants and officers know where the cameras are and where the cameras aren't," Stanton explained.

He says some officers would take advantage of blind spots.

"They would pick these inmates, set them up in a certain area and convince them to get loud or make an action like they were trying hit the officer or something. That gave them permission to use force on them," he said.

The women's prison in Ocala is under the microscope right now. This week, investigators say an employee was arrested for groping an inmate. Attorneys for another inmate, Cheryl Weimar, say she was left a quadriplegic after guards nearly beat her to death in August. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating.

"You're only hearing the tip of the iceberg, there's more there," Stanton said.

He says a lot of the abuse is due to bad hires. Stanton claims there are no psychological evaluations for future officers and not enough training.  On top of that, Florida DOC tells the News Station that starting pay for an officer is just $33,500.

"There's a lot of good officers and good people there but the problem is there's not enough," Stanton said.

Several state lawmakers are closely watching what happens inside the prison. On Saturday, there will be a meeting where women and their families can talk about life at Lowell.

"I think this will be a really important moment to listen and learn and to bring those perspectives and policy suggestions to Tallahassee to pass meaningful change," said Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, who plans to attend.

The Florida Department of Corrections sent us the following statement:

"The Florida Department of Corrections has zero tolerance for any staff who act inappropriately and contrary to our core values. The FDC Office of Inspector General, along with the leadership at Lowell C.I., have a track record of ensuring individuals involved in misconduct are held fully accountable."