As Hurricane Irma approached Florida anxiety was everywhere. People were rushing for fuel, water, food and supplies. Vehicles clogged the roads northbound and airplane seats became scarce.
Through it all, one South Florida legislator kept tabs on the prison population.
“We had the largest relocation of inmates that has ever occurred in the United States,” David Richardson told a group of supporters in Coconut Grove last week.
The three-term state representative said 12,000 inmates were moved without any publicity and with highway patrol escorts.
“And I was briefed all along,” Richardson revealed.
In an e-mail, Michelle Glady, Director of Communications of the Florida Department of Corrections, confirmed Richardson’s account.
“The Department successfully evacuated over 12,000 inmates to various facilities across the state,” Glady wrote. “If an evacuation of this size has ever occurred in FDC’s history, or anywhere else in the country, our leadership team is unaware of it. Satellite facilities including work camps, community release centers, etc., were evacuated to larger facilities. Also, open-bay type housing units were evacuated across the state and those inmates were temporarily relocated to secure housing units within the larger institutions.”
Richardson has spent a bulk of his legislative career auditing the state’s private prison industrial complex. The result has seen the state stepping in to take over failing facilities. It is an achievement Richardson thinks will bolster his chances of becoming Florida’s first gay man elected to U.S. Congress.
“The work I’ve done in the prison system was not something I had on my radar a couple years ago but I realized if I dug deep enough I would be able to effect change,” Richardson said. “The Department of Corrections has worked very closely with me and they make sure if they are going to make a big move they call and brief me and I’m just a little Democrat.”
Richardson has thrown his hat in the ring for the open seat in congressional district 27. Current Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is retiring and the district will likely flip from Republican to Democrat in 2018. Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump by 20 points in this Miami-Dade district.
“I am very pleased David was the first openly LGBT person elected to the Florida House of Representatives, but I am even more impressed with his ability to get things done in the minority party,” said Joe Falk, past president of SAVE, who hosted Richardson at his home for last week’s fundraiser. “His amazing work with the prison system is extraordinary. Even more extraordinary is the hard detailed work that is never reported by the press.”
Joining Falk in the Richardson camp is Mark Gilbert, chair of the board of directors of Outshine Film Festival. Gilbert cited Richardson’s assistance in bringing a grant to his organization’s attention and praised his help in providing housing and transportation for youth visiting Miami for this year’s Maccabi Games.
Richardson’s work in the prison system, Gilbert said, is heavy lifting and far from glamorous work.
“When he’s talking about the prison stuff he’s not talking about getting them beach chairs, he’s talking about getting them toilet paper and toothbrushes,” Gilbert said.