Prisoners -- and the guests who visit them -- have rights, too.
So when a complaint came in that visitors weren't being treated right at Dade Correctional Institution, Problem went to check it out.
The alleged problem: People drive to the Florida City prison at the crack of dawn on weekends -- the only visitation days -- but don't get inside until the afternoon. While they wait, sometimes dozens at a time, their only reprieve from the sun is a tattered blue tarp covering a few wooden benches.
On a visit late last year to the prison -- a compound surrounded by barbed-wire coils a few miles from the Robert Is Here produce stand -- Problem watched people waiting about 90 minutes to get inside to the security checkpoints. And the benches under the tarp filled up quickly, leaving many people standing in direct sunlight.
Not as bad as advertised, but was that the best the warden could do?
''We are very aware of the delay some of our visitors experience,'' Florida Department of Corrections spokeswoman Jo Ellyn Rackleff wrote in an e-mail to The Miami Herald. ``We strongly support the inmate's ties to his or her family and believe it is an important element in a successful transition back to society.''
Dade Correctional Institution is one of Florida's biggest prisons, housing about 1,500 inmates. And because it's in the state's most populated county, it is among the most active prisons in terms of visitors.
For the 11 visitation days in December, Dade C.I. logged 2,007 visitors, about 182 a day, according to statistics Rackleff provided.
And visitors can't just walk into the prison, of course, so it is a time-consuming process to get them registered, clear them through two security checkpoints and a biometric hand-scanner, then bring inmates into the visitation room.
And getting first-time visitors processed takes even longer, said David Harris, the prison's warden. Some new visitors aren't familiar with the visitation rules -- no skin-tight clothing, no more than $50 allowed inside, no open packs of cigarettes -- and that causes backups.
''People tend to wait longer when we have a lot of new visitors to process,'' Harris said. ``Our regular visitors know what they need to have ready when they arrive.''
Since our first visit, Harris has taken steps to reduce the waiting and make visitors more comfortable.
He posted a sergeant at the prison's entrance who is especially knowledgeable and efficient in processing visitors. Harris said he and the sergeant are training other guards to get visitors inside safely and quickly.
On a recent visit, Problem saw visitors being called to the security checkpoints within 20 minutes after they arrived at the prison.
The tattered blue tarp in the parking lot has been replaced with a new one, meaning more shade for waiting visitors.
And Harris said he checks his e-mail regularly ([email protected]
) and responds to visitors' complaints and suggestions.
Said the warden: ``Sometimes I'm their enemy, sometimes I'm their hero.''