When jobs were scarce all over the U.S. during the last economic crisis, you could still get a job at a Florida correctional center. The demand is easy to explain: the state ranks third, after Texas and California, in the list of U.S. states with the largest prison population.
Over the last few years, overcrowding as a result of harsher sentencing laws and negligence associated with privatization have turned Florida´s prisons into places where constitutional rights are routinely ignored, and staff maintain a culture of silence around misconduct by both guards and prison authorities.
Florida is home to some of the most violent correctional facilities in the country. The number of deaths, including homicides and suicides, in Florida prisons has escalated over the last decade and a half, going from 191 in 2000 to a shocking 356 in 2016. In 2017, the number rose again, reaching 428 deaths. “There are so many unexplained deaths,” Lisa Graybill, an advocate for criminal justice reform has commented.
If you or a loved one have endured abuse or neglect at a correctional facility in Florida, you can sue for compensation. By filing a lawsuit, you can also help prevent further abuse and contribute to prison system reform.
One of the main reasons of the overcrowding at Florida prisons is the near impossibility of getting parole. Although the law says that there is still parole in Florida, courts haven´t granted it in a long time. The state abolished parole for the majority of crimes in 1983 and delayed it for the rest in 1995.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, “Of the 101,000 adult inmates in our state prisons, fewer than 5,000 are still eligible for parole.” As per the most recent data, the state´s prison population surpasses 150,000 inmates.
Violence and negligence at Florida prisons is pervasive. Retaliation against guards and other staff members who try to speak out about abuse has been well documented both by the press and by Department of Justice investigations.
A Culture of Silence
Florida has a dark history of abusing, neglecting, and even murdering the inmates it is supposed to rehabilitate. The Florida Department of Corrections and its numerous private contractors are masters of keeping their dirty laundry away from the public eye. In fact, only journalistic exposés have had any luck at trying to change this broken system.
Statistics compiled by the FDOC itself revealed that excessive force incidents against inmates nearly doubled from 2007 to 2012. In 2017 there were about 200 more prisoner deaths in Florida than in 2007.
Mental health patients who end up in Florida´s correctional system are the greatest danger. Only one US state, Idaho, spends less than Florida on the care of each inmate with a mental health diagnosis. From 1996 to 2014, the number of inmates suffering from disabling mental health conditions within Florida´s correctional system more than doubled.
Abuse and Neglect of Mental Patients at Florida Prisons
Recently, the Miami Herald exposed torture and murder at the Dade Correctional Institution´s mental health ward, where prisoners with psychiatric conditions were beaten while handcuffed, denied meals, and burnt to death with scalding water. Prisoners were also routinely taunted by guards in order to cause psychotic attacks. Both inmates and mental health professionals who worked at the facility have given testimony about this type of misconduct.
A former Dept. of Corrections mental health director, Kenneth Appelbaum, has commented,“Prisons are where so many of the sickest people with the most serious psychiatric disorders in our society end up, and as a profession we constantly lament this. Yet our professional organizations are not very engaged in asking how we should care for patients in those settings.”
About a decade ago, the secretary of Florida’s Department of Corrections, James V. Crosby, was sentenced to eight years in prison for taking kickbacks from prison vendors. A former warden told the New Yorker that under Crosby prison guards systematically “beat up inmates for sport.”
As stricter sentencing laws and budget cuts caused more overcrowding and corruption at Florida’s correctional facilities, the work of an agency in charge of overseeing mental health care at prisons was discontinued. With massive layoffs causing staff to work longer hours, the situation at the state’s prisons and jails is only getting worse, with no improvement in sight.
How to File a Civil Rights Lawsuit Under Section 1983 in Florida
A deceased prisoner's family can file a lawsuit if they believe the rights of their family member have been violated while in custody. Substantial damages can be obtained in this type of cases. An experienced attorney with sufficient resources and connections can greatly boost your chances of a successful outcome. Our prison abuse and neglect attorneys have put together a team of investigators who know the state´s correctional system inside out.
To succeed, your attorney must help you prove that prison guards and prison authorities were aware that civil rights had been violated. Settlement amounts can increase dramatically if you can prove there was intent to harm, as you may then seek punitive damages as well as compensatory damages.
Which Are The Worst Prisons and Jails in Florida?
Corruption and Murder at Florida Correctional Facilities
Florida State Prison:
Prisoner Advocacy site Prison Legal News and considers FSP one of the most dangerous prisons in the state. Both former guards and former prisoners coincide on Internet forums.
Death row prisoner Frank Valdes was thought to have committed suicide at FSP years ago. However, an autopsy revealed that guards had beaten him to death, traces of their boots were still marked on the victim’s body. After filing a lawsuit, his estate received a $750,000 settlement. As usual, the culprits were acquitted at trial. Over the years, cases like this have piled up about Florida State Prison, and settlements have continued to increase.
Dade Correctional Institution:
In 2016, 12 inmates died at Dade, the largest number of deaths at any correctional facility in the state that year. The corrupt culture at DCI has been exposed in several journalistic investigations, from the Miami Herald’s to The New Yorker’s. Abuse, neglect, and murder have been well documented, especially in the case of Darren Rainey, who was burnt to death through a boiling water shower. Like many inmates who might not even belong in jail in the first place, Rainey was a mental patient, incarcerated on a two-year sentence for drug possession.
After the cause of Rainey’s death became public, in spite of phoney autopsies and “internal investigations,” there were some changes at the facility. However, a New Yorker reporter visited DCI and found that one of the officials who had fostered the culture of violence and complicit silence at Dade’s mental health ward was still in the same position, which suggests that improvements were merely cosmetic.
Charlotte Correctional Institution:
For many people who have the experience to compare, Charlotte is the worst correctional facility in Florida. Damion Foster, an inmate held at CCI’s mental health unit, learnt this in a tragic way, when he died after “an altercation” with guards.
Matthew Walker was also killed by Charlotte guards, in May 2014. His crime: arguing with a guard during a routine cell-check. A Grand Jury ruled his death a homicide and a “tragic, senseless and avoidable” event. Needless to say, none of the guards was held accountable or sent to jail. In fact, only one, out of eight involved, actually lost his job. In 2016, seven inmates died at Charlotte, which was second only to Dade that year in terms of prisoner deaths.
Franklin Correctional Institution:
A whistleblower lawsuit filed by Florida Department of Corrections investigators opened the lid on the sordid secrecy around the tragic case of Randall Jordan-Aparo, an FCI inmate who died while serving a short sentence for two misdemeanors. One of the whistleblowers said to the Inspector General, “We got inmates down there that are getting their throats slashed on a regular basis, their faces slashed, beat down with locks and socks; tremendous amount of contraband allegations that staff is ordering this and bringing in contraband and being paid and everyone we’re talking to is saying, ‘You know they killed that kid.’”
When Randall Jordan-Aparo needed medical treatment after an injury, nurses proved negligent and incompetent. As his condition worsened, he demanded to be taken to a hospital. He was then taken out of the infirmary for “causing a disturbance,” and guards put him in an isolation cell. As he kept complaining about pain, he was sprayed by guards with huge amounts of pepper gas and tear gas, which ultimately caused his death. Aparo was 27 years old. “They killed that damn kid. He laid there for five days begging for help,” one of the whistleblowers said.
Lowell Correctional Institution:
LCI, which the media have called a “women’s prison from hell” is the largest correctional facility for women in the US. A 2015 investigation by the Miami Herald revealed that abuse by guards at the state prison had become intolerable over the previous decade. Allegations mention guards spitting on inmates, calling them whores, threatening to slam them into concrete, and, most prominently, sexually abusing them on a regular basis.
According to inmate testimonies, both male and female guards forced inmates to have sex with them “in bathrooms, closets, the laundry and officers’ stations.” In spite of attempts at reform, Lowell is spending less and less money on health care and education. A couple of guards accused of rape have been known to lose their jobs, but none have been criminally charged.
Florida Inmate Death and Injury Lawsuits Reach Multi-Million Dollar Settlements and Help Further Reform
Florida’s overcrowded prisons are rife with abuse and neglect. Our civil rights attorneys have a track record of securing multi-million dollar settlements and verdicts in jail medical neglect, inmate sexual abuse, and wrongful death cases. Large payouts in this type of cases are not uncommon in Florida.
In January 2018, the estate of Darren Rainey, the schizophrenic man who died after being subjected to a barbaric 180-degree water shower, reached a $4.5 million settlement with the state of Florida and other defendants.
In 2013, the family of Nicholas T. Christie, who died at Lee County jail in 2009, received a $4 million settlement. Christie had been pepper sprayed by jail staff while on a restraint chair. The jail’s private medical contractor Corizon was one of the defendants in the lawsuit.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and a jail medical contractor paid $1 million to the children of Allen Daniel Hicks, a Tampa resident who died after being arrested at a traffic stop while he was suffering a stroke. The officers arrested him because he did not respond to commands to exit his car when in fact, he couldn’t move, as the stroke had paralyzed half his body. Hicks was booked into the local jail where he received no medical screening. He died on account of this medical negligence.
Inmates held at facilities serviced by medical contractor Corizon, received a $2.1 million settlement after filing a class-action lawsuit over the health care provider’s routine denial of hernia operations to prisoners, in order to save money.
The family of Daniel Linsinbigler, a 19-year-old mental patient who suffocated to death while strapped to a restraint chair at the Clay County Jail, received an undisclosed multi-million dollar settlement to resolve wrongful death allegations. The 19-year-old boy was arrested while going through a mental breakdown, and charged with two misdemeanors. While in jail, he had another breakdown, to which guards responded by pepper spraying him, strapping him onto a restraint chair, and finally putting a spit mask over his head, which ultimately caused the asphyxia that killed him. When Daniel started asking for help and saying he couldn’t breathe, deputies did nothing.
The estate of Jennifer DeGraw, a mentally ill woman, received a $1.15 million settlement from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. DeGraw was arrested during a mental breakdown and died in a Pinellas County Jail cell after refusing food and medicine for eight days.
How Long Do You Have to File a Prison Inmate Death Lawsuit in Florida?
Florida has strict time limits for filing a wrongful death lawsuit. Act now to maximize compensation and bring change to Florida’s correctional system
As a rule, you have two years to file a wrongful death lawsuit in Florida. With one of the most corrupt correctional systems in the country, however, if your loved one died in custody in Florida, every minute counts. Dishonest guards and officials have been known to destroy and tamper with evidence in order to protect its own.
Likewise, prison medical contractors have a track record of systematically violating laws to save money and later covering their tracks when inmates lose their lives as a result.
To maximize compensation, prevent further misconduct, and contribute to reform efforts, contact one of our civil rights specialists as soon as you can. While a successful settlement or verdict will not bring the people you lost back, it may help save lives by prompting staff firings and policy changes. Connect Online or Call 866.836.4684