In 2016, 13 inmates died at Dade Correctional Institution, located in an unincorporated area between Florida City and Homestead. That gives it the dubious distinction of the highest number of inmate deaths – by far – of any prison in the state.
Seven of those inmates died from illness, ranging from lymphoma to heart disease.
Four inmates killed themselves by hanging – Clinton Drake, 24, Justin Naber, 30, and Scott Perkins, 49, all serving time for second-degree murder; and Andrew Difrancesco, 26, who was in prison for possession of child sex photos. Anthony Vidal, 45, was killed by another inmate, and one 70 year old inmate’s cause of death was not determined.
Dade Correctional Institution, which houses only adult male inmates, has a maximum capacity of 1,521. It opened its doors to inmates in 1996.
Record Number of Inmate Deaths in Florida
While Dade Correctional Institution had the highest number of deaths, the entire Florida prison system experienced a record 356 in-custody deaths. That doesn’t include another 10 inmates who died while not technically in custody of the Florida prison system- they may have succumbed after transferring to another facility.
Just 16 years earlier, the total number of Florida inmate deaths was just 191.
Florida’s prison system is the country’s third-largest, but it has the most deaths per capita. The state has approximately 99,000 inmates, while Texas holds nearly 147,000 inmates in its state prison system.
Yet the total number of Texas inmate deaths in 2016 was 407, considerably lower proportionately than Florida.
Gangs and an Aging Population
What led to the spike in inmate deaths?
Florida Department of Corrections secretary Julie Jones told the Miami Herald that gangs and an aging population are the reason for the death uptick. She says gang involvement increases the number of inmates killing other inmates, while an aging prison population is going to contract more life-threatening diseases.
Not so fast Ms. Jones.
With the exception of the 70-year old who died of unknown causes, the Dade Correctional Institution inmates who died of diseases in 2016 ranged in age from 46 to 64. Those deaths, however, are not due to neglect or lack of due care, according to Jones.
The Florida Department of Corrections page on inmate mortality states,
“Many of our inmates have not had regular access to any form of health care prior to being sentenced to FDC custody. In addition, many inmates suffer from pre-existing conditions such as alcohol and drug addiction, mental health issues, and chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.
From the moment they arrive at one of our Reception Centers, we are committed to providing proper care for our inmates as part of preparing them for successful re-entry into the community.”
Staff Shortages, Low Pay, and Inexperienced Corrections Officers
Even if state officials claim that inmates aren’t dying of neglect or lack of due care, there is no question that Dade Correctional Institution suffers from serious staffing shortages.
Many corrections officers there have little experience, and with an average base pay of just $31K annually, it’s hard to attract people to do the work. It’s reportedly been at least 10 years since employees have received a base pay raise.
2017 Sees Little Improvement at Dade and Overall Rise
While the number of inmate deaths are known for 2017 at Dade, the exact cause of death for each inmate is not entirely established as of the time of publication.
The number was down by just one person from 2016, from 13 to 12. For most of the 2017 deaths, an active investigation is still underway by the Office of the Inspector General along with either the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Miami-Dade Police Department, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office or the Martin County Sheriff’s Office.
By law, the district’s medical examiner must determine the cause of death of any inmate dying in a Florida correctional facility.
For the Florida state correctional system as a whole, the number of inmate deaths rose from 2016 from 356 to 407 – a year in which the total number of Florida inmates actually dropped by about 2,000.
Of those, 253 are still listed as “pending,” so it is not possible to know the bulk of the causes. In fact, 52 deaths are still “pending” since 2016.
The number of deaths attributed to suicide dropped from 10 to 7 in the course of the year, while the number attributed to accidental causes remains the same, at 11. Homicides dropped from 5 to 3.
It may take another year for the medical examiner to decide the causes of death for those more than 300 inmates, so the numbers for homicides, suicides and accidents could change. Let’s hope the upward trend does not continue for 2018.
If you lost a family member at Dade Correctional Institution or other Florida jail or prison, you may be entitled to compensation if there was misconduct, negligence, or abuse of your loved one. We sue prisons and jails for wrongful death and civil rights violations. Call Us 866.836.4684 or Connect Online to Learn Your Rights