Florida’s prison system and jails are coming under fire amid a host of inmate injuries and deaths that are alleged to have been caused by abuse and neglect. The Miami Herald reports there were nearly 350 inmates who died in Florida prisons last year. While not all of those are attributed to wrongdoing, it is a record high, despite the fact the number of inmates as a whole has remained largely unchanged.
One of those cases, involving a man who died after suffering severe burns after being locked by guards in a scalding hot shower, has resulted in a federal investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. The 50-year-old inmate at the Dade Correctional Institution in Miami suffered from schizophrenia and was allegedly being punished for refusing to clean feces off the floor of his cell.
An investigation by the Miami Herald, which involved spending more than a year interviewing dozens of witnesses, pouring over hundreds of records and analyzing a number of claims, the paper found alleged abuses included:
- Sexual assaults by officers against inmates;
- Racially motivated beatings;
- Withholding food from inmates in a mental health ward;
- Refusing to secure medical treatment for inmates in dire need.
Guards allegedly threatened further abuse and harm if inmates reported these incidents. In fact, one lawsuits filed by six former corrections officers accuses retaliation when they exposed a reported cover-up in the death of a 27-year-old asthmatic inmate who was horrifically “gassed” by fellow guards.
Another lawsuit was filed more recently by the family of a 36-year-old mother of four who, 24 hours after filing a complaint with the Florida Department of Corrections alleging a guard threatened to kill her, was found dead in her cell. Her surviving family members, who assert she had just seven months left to complete on her sentence, have provided evidence of a letter they received nearly two weeks earlier, informing them of a guard’s threat to beat her with a radio after she caught him having sex with another inmate. A medical examiner’s report indicated decedent died of heart disease, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement reported no evidence of foul play. However, a second autopsy, requested by her family and performed by a private examiner, indicated she had lethal levels of blood pressure medicine in her system. It also indicated she had “excessive bruising” and cuts on her face and other areas of her body.
The complaint filed by her family indicates the culture of mental, sexual and physical abuse at the prison created an atmosphere in which guards were deliberately indifferent to the basic needs, protection and civil rights of inmates. This is the standard that one is required to show in order to hold corrections institutions liable for the actions of employees.
Generally, lawsuits against prisons can be very difficult because of sovereign immunity laws that protect both government entities and their employees. This is not to say such cases are impossible, but there may be substantial legal hurdles, and they should be proceeded with only after careful consideration. However, there are many correctional facilities that are run by private institutions, and generally, these private companies and contractors are not “public entities,” and thus are not entitled to the same type of immunity.
Each case will need to be weighed individually by an experienced injury attorney.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
Suit claims abuse in death of inmate at Florida women’s prison, Sept. 25, 2015, By Julie K. Brown, Miami Herald
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