|City/Town: • Belle Glade|
|Location Class: • Penitentiary|
|Built: • 1932 | Abandoned: • 2011|
|Status: • Demolished|
|Photojournalist: • David Bulit|
Early History Florida Prison Farm No. 2
The Glades Correctional Institution was established in 1932 as Florida Prison Farm #2, located between Belle Glade and Pahokee. The prison was described as “…tropically-built houses and stockades surrounded by beautiful lawn and landscaping, stretching off into 3,000 acres of muck land…” Sugar cane was planted in an attempt to make use of the state’s expansive acreage of Everglades muck land and surpassed state officials’ expectations. 700 acres of land were put aside to grow corn, beans, cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes, and even rhubarb. The product was transported to Raiford State Prison Farm as well as Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee and other state institutions in need.
By 1951, Florida Prison Farm #2 went through an expansive renovation and was renamed Glades State Prison Farm. Prisoners supplied the labor for the $400,000 renovations which included two barracks for 500 black prisoners, and a utility building containing a cafeteria, kitchen, laundry, barracks for 50 white prisoners, and a hospital for 16 patients. A solitary wing was built in the main building containing 14 solitary cells—the only actual cells at the prison at the time. Six guard towers overlooked the entire facility and a gatehouse was added to the prison entrance containing the arsenal. A moat surrounded the prison with one prison official claiming it was filled with alligators.
Glades Correctional Institution
The prison was renamed Glades Correctional Institution in 1962 to fall in line with the state’s new terminology. Florida State Prison, also known as Raiford Prison, is Florida’s only prison that is officially named “prison”, with the other institutions being named “Correctional Institutions,” or “Correctional Facility” if it is a privately contracted prison.
Throughout the 1960s, prisoners made multiple allegations about the poor conditions at Glades Correctional and the mistreatment by the staff there. In 1969, an unsigned letter was smuggled out of the prison and found its way to an investigator for The Miami Herald. The unknown inmate said he hoped his letter might prompt change without violence because it would be “senseless for any of us to get killed or injured over these sadists, latent homosexuals, parasites, ignorant individuals that run this zoo.” These allegations later turned out to be true when members of the press were given a tour of the institution.
The letter complained of overcrowded dormitories saying, “We have over 200 men living in one big room, which is also home to rats, cockroaches, and mosquitos.” According to the letter, prisoners worked long hours in the sun out in fielding using “medieval tools in the 21st century to do useless work.”The prisoners were also not paid for their work saying, “We work for nothing here as this is not a progressive prison system such as up north, where you get a small amount of pay. A lot of the fellows here have no money, so what they do, the younger ones in particular is sell their bodies to sex fiends.” Prisoners were also fed mainly beans and collard greens.
1995 Prison Break
On January 2, 1995, Florida had its largest prison break in 15 years. Six convicts escaped from Glades Correctional Institution via a tunnel they dug beneath the chapel which was under construction at the time. The tunnel was 8 feet deep, two feet wide, and 25 yards long. A later investigation found that five inmates had a similar plan to tunnel from the chapel in 1987 but were captured and the tunnel was filled in. When the six convicts began their escape route, digging was easier since they followed the old tunnel and even found an extra shovel in the old passage.
During the escape, a correctional officer noticed some of the convicts as they were making their getaway and fired two gunshots; no one was believed hit by the gunfire. One inmate, Felix Carbonell, was apprehended almost immediately outside the prison fence. The remaining escapees were Hector Rivas, 32; Juan Fleitas, 30; Jesus Martinez, 47; Florencio Alvarez, 39; and Armando Junco, 62. All were serving life sentences with 25-year-mandatories.
On January 10, 1995, two homeless men tipped off Florida Highway Patrol troopers that Alvarez and Junco were holed up in a makeshift hut a few hundred yards from a horse ranch. The task force searching for the convicts quickly assembled a raiding party. Carlos Armely, who was at the ranch, said gunfire quickly erupted. “As soon as the helicopter turned its lights on, shots were fired”, said Armely, who counted at least five gunshots. After the brief gunfight, Junco lay dead. Alvarez was recaptured and charged with second-degree murder for the death of his partner.
Ten days after the escape from Glades Correctional, Rivas was apprehended by a patrol officer in Little Havana. Martinez was caught the following day in Little Havana as well when he was recognized after walking in front of a patrol car. Fleitas remained on the loose until August 3, 1997, when he was shot by Mexican police during a botched robbery. When the photo made the local newspaper, a tipster recognized him from America’s Most Wanted and called the FBI.
As a result of the escape, the Florida Department of Corrections used $4.4 million to make improvements to Glades Correctional. These included two new 12-foot perimeter fencing with alarm systems, rolls of razor wire on top of the fences, new perimeter lighting, and a “rat fence” of underground bars to prevent any further escape attempts via a tunnel.
A new control building was built where visitors and guards enter and exit the prison. This building also housed the inmate visitation room and administration offices. Four new dormitories were constructed with individual cells to replace the older, less secure ones. Six new guard towers were also built to replace the old, shorter brick ones. All correctional officers were also given 800mhz radios which was an upgrade. In addition to the equipment upgrades, over 860 personnel were hired including 180 which focused on the areas of inmate movement, emergency response, searches, and confinement escort.
Closure and Abandonment
By the 2010s, Glades Correctional was the state’s second-oldest prison and due to its age, it cost more to operate than other prisons; $64 per prisoner compared to the state’s cheapest prison, Okeechobee Correctional Institution, at less than $38 per prisoner per day. Due to this, it was not included in a plan to privatize the prisons in the state of Florida and was shut down in 2011, leaving over 300 people in the area jobless.
In 2014, the vacant facility and surrounding property were purchased by a private local group which included former Belle Glade Mayor Tom Altman. There have been multiple ideas and plans for the site which included giving the property for free to the Atlanta Braves for a new spring training facility. Altman has stated many times that whatever does happen with the property, he wants it to serve the town and surrounding areas in a positive and impactful way.
On August 9, 2017, the church on the property was severely damaged due to a fire. Surveillance cameras on the property captured three males and two females running from the property at the time of the fire. On the evening of July 8, 2020, the church suffered major damages due to yet another fire that destroyed much of the building. The property is under the surveillance of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office with sheriff’s office deputies making multiple visits to the old facility in regards to trespassers and vandals.
After years of abandonment, it was announced that Apopka-based design-builder FINFROCK would be expanding into Belle Glade with a 140,000-square-foot manufacturing facility on the site of the Glades Correctional Institution. The new facility is expected to generate 200-plus concrete manufacturing, trucking, drafting, electrical repair, construction, and office administration jobs over the next 10 years. Those jobs are expected to pay in the $30,000 to $40,000 range, well above the area’s median household income of just under $26,000. This is considered a huge win for a city with a long history of economic difficulty where 41 percent of the city’s residents live below the poverty line. Glades Correctional was demolished in 2021.