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Posts Tagged ‘florida prisons’

“Meal times at Tomoka Correctional Institution Work Camp look like a scene straight out of the “Walking Dead,” a former employee of 10 years told the Miami Herald.

“Everywhere you turn, inmates are walking around like zombies,” said officer Keith Raimundo, who quit in June amid disagreements with the administration and mounting frustrations with how the facility was run. “Every other inmate coming into the chow hall is high.”

The scene at the mess hall follows a predictable script, Raimundo told the Herald: Red-eyed inmates shuffle in to get their dinner and sit down to eat, uncoordinated limbs struggling to place food in their mouths. Frequently, he said, someone “falls out,” common vernacular for an overdose. The inmate might faceplant unconscious into his food tray, or slip from his seat, foaming at the mouth, twitching, all of his muscles seizing. At Tomoka, it’s too common an occurrence to be alarming.

“Everybody thinks it’s funny,” said Raimundo. That includes the inmates and officers, he said.

But it’s not funny. It’s deadly. And it’s not just Tomoka.

“It is a statewide issue. The number of incidents at Tomoka is not disproportionate with the rest of the state,” said FDC spokesperson Michelle Glady in a statement.

The past two years have each been the deadliest in Florida prison history, consecutively. And 2018 figures to be worse yet. Total deaths this year are on track to exceed 500 for the first time, a previously unthinkable threshold. And every year, more younger people are dying. The spike in mortality is paralleled by a dramatic rise in “accidental deaths,” up from 12 in 2016 to 62 in 2017. Those are mostly drug overdoses, according to the department.

The top killer, according to an internal FDC audit: synthetic marijuana, more commonly called K2 or Spice. It’s the same drug that just made national headlines when 70 people overdosed in 24 hours in New Haven, Conn., home of Yale University.

Synthetic marijuana is a misnomer, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. While synthetic cannabinoids are supposed to trigger the same receptors in the brain as THC, the naturally occurring component in marijuana that produces a high, the chemical makeup of K2 is unique from traditional marijuana. Unlike its natural counterpart, synthetic marijuana can cause aggressive behavior, hallucinations, heart attacks, seizures like the ones Raimundo described as “falling out,” and death.

“That stuff is killing people left and right,” Raimundo said.

There is no single chemical makeup of synthetic marijuana, so in practice, it can be made of almost anything. In prison, it often contains traces of roach spray and rat poison.

“There are dozens of different chemicals that are used as synthetic cannabinoids,” said Dr. Tegan Boehmer, of the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health. “They are very dangerous because there are a lot of unknowns.”

The few death investigation summaries made available online by the department offer a partial glimpse of the problem. Last year, at Franklin Correctional Institution, Eugene Martin fell forward suddenly out of bed, dead from K2. At Mayo Correctional Institution, Hakim Ramatoola had a seizure and died after smoking K2 described by others who participated as “the worst ever.” Jarquez Jones died at Santa Rosa after smoking an unusual-looking black K2. Jamil Wright overdosed at Martin Correctional. Ruben Harris and Calvin Johnson at Holmes Correctional Institution. Jesse Johnson at Okaloosa Correctional Institution. All in the last half of 2017. And the list goes on.

The department does not keep statistics on non-lethal overdoses. Still, it acknowledges that overdoses related to synthetic marijuana use have gotten so frequent in Florida prisons that the FDC created an informational video about the dangers of the drug and showed it to all 96,253 inmates. Incoming inmates now watch it as part of their intake process.”

– Sarah Blaskey, “This drug is turning Florida inmates into ‘zombies.’ It’s fueling a record death toll.” Miami Herald, August 21, 2018

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“For nearly two decades, the inmates inside Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Alabama were raped, sodomized, forced to engage in oral sex and fondled by corrections officers as state corrections officials looked the other way.

In 2013, the prison was considered among the 10 worst prisons in the nation. At least one third of its staff was suspected of sexual misconduct, and inmates who dared to report the abuse were punished by being locked in confinement, a more restrictive form of incarceration.

Understaffing, poor medical care, inadequate sanitary supplies, overcrowding and poor security fostered an environment where sexual violence and abuse thrived, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, which began a civil-rights investigation at the prison in 2013.

The Tutwiler investigation in Alabama mirrors what the Justice Department is now doing at Lowell Correctional Institution in Central Florida, where female inmates have complained for years about sexual, physical and mental abuse inflicted by corrections officers.

“It appears that Lowell has a huge problem with sexual abuse of prisoners. Normally, at womens’ prisons, you get one or two bad actors, but it seems that Lowell has a real cultural problem, and the Florida Department of Corrections, in general, has a huge cultural problem in the way they handle sexual abuse,’’ said Julia Abbate, the former deputy chief in charge of corrections in DOJ’s civil rights division.

Abbate, who is now national advocacy director for Just Detention International, a health and human rights organization that works to end sexual abuse in jails and prisons, said Lowell has been on the Justice Department’s radar for several years.

In April, John Gore, acting attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice, sent a letter to Florida Gov. Rick Scott, informing him, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Julie Jones, secretary for the Department of Corrections, that the department had launched a federal probe into conditions at Lowell.

Lowell Correctional, Florida’s largest women’s prison, has been beset by reports of sexual extortion and other systemic abuses

“We are obliged to determine whether there are systemic violations of the Constitution of the United States … focusing on Lowell’s ability to protect prisoners from sexual abuse,’’ Gore wrote.

In July, DOJ’s civil rights division sent a subpoena to Florida’s Department of Corrections, demanding records ranging from policy and training manuals to a listing of staff members who were terminated, transferred, suspended or resigned from the prison as of July 1, 2015.

Abbate said that when DOJ’s Civil Rights Division receives authorization to investigate, it means that there is cause to believe that inmates are being subjected to conditions that deprive them of their constitutional rights — in this case, in violation of the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment protection against Cruel and Unusual Punishment.

Federal investigations follow a standard trajectory that takes anywhere from two to five years. Abbate said it begins when the DOJ sends a notification letter to state officials informing them the department has opened an investigation and outlining what they intend to do.

The procedure calls for the department to visit the prison, inspect conditions and to interview inmates, she said. A letter sent to the FDC in May said the visit would occur July 23-27, although the Herald has been told the tour will happen on the 20th of this month.

“They do a pretty thorough investigation. They examine documents and go on site with a team of experts for typically a week, then they go back to their desk and decide whether the pattern or practice exists and if so, what are they and how do they support those conclusions,’’ she said.

A letter of findings is then drawn up.

“If findings are made of constitutional violations, they don’t pull any punches,’’ Abbate said.

As part of the probe, the DOJ is holding a community meeting on Aug. 19. Investigators are inviting former inmates and family members of current inmates to the meeting at the Marion Baptist Association in Ocala.

The DOJ reached an agreement with the state of Alabama and its corrections department calling for a series of reforms to protect inmates. It concluded that Tutwiler guards had violated prisoners’ rights.

At Tutwiler, DOJ found that inmates lived in an environment of repeated, open and forced sexual behavior by corrections officers. Prison officials were criticized for failing to address the problems despite repeated complaints. The DOJ was especially critical of state corrections officials who “demonstrated a clear deliberate indifference to the harm and substantial risk of harm to women prisoners.’’

The probe found that Alabama had been on notice of the abuse for more than 18 years but had chosen to ignore them.

The Lowell investigation comes after years of complaints by inmates and activists, who organized in the aftermath of a 2015 Miami Herald investigation, “Beyond Punishment.’’ The series included interviews with more than three dozen former and current inmates at Lowell who described being forced to have sex with officers just to obtain basic necessities such as soap, toilet paper and sanitary napkins.”

– Julie K. Brown, “Amid reports of sexual extortion, other horrors, feds subpoena records, tour women’s prison.” Miami Herald, August 10, 2018.

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