Prisoners in Florida are Dying at Record Rates
A report from The Appeal revealed that inmates in Florida are dying at record rates. With a total of 97,794 prisoners in Florida state custody, 428 inmates died in 2017 and as at June 2018, 216 prisoners have died in Florida prisons, The Appeal wrote. The Miami Herald also reported a steep rise in prison deaths since 2000.
The question, is why has Florida’s prison population been dying at increasingly hugher rates, despite a decrease in total prison population?
There was the case of Anthony Vidal who was killed by cellmate Tarrin Blue at the Dade Correctional Institution on March 11, 2016. A wrongful death lawsuit filed against Florida’s Department of Corrections revealed that Blue had a history of mental illness and prison violence. Blue had also attacked another inmate a month earlier but was not placed in the mental health ward where supervision is tighter.
The lawsuit alleges Vidal cried out for help for ten minutes as Blue beat and strangled him but no guards came to help. Audio in the cell had been turned off, according to The Appeal report.
Yet another case is that of 42-year-old Michael Baker who was denied treatment for sickle cell disease until he died on March 10, 2016, at the Santa Rosa Correctional Institution in Milton, Florida.
“Baker wrote to me over a period of weeks from the fall of 2015 until early 2016,” Baker’s attorney, James V. Cook, told The Appeal in an email. “Somehow I couldn’t get a medical release from him to review his medical files. He mentioned two nurses … He said he would complain to them of severe pain, throwing up blood and they would tell him to ‘go ahead and give up and die,’ and ‘lay your Black ass down and wear it.’ He said they refused to let him see a doctor. By the time I finally got his medical records, he was dead.”
Neglect Results in Florida Prisoner Deaths
Critics and prisoner advocates say in-prison deaths rose in the state since Governor Rick Scott first assumed office in 2010. The governor said if he was elected that he would cut prison expenditure by $1 billion by privatizing prison services and facilities. This actualized when he eliminated 1,690 state prison jobs and transferred 1,500 prison inmates to private facilities.
Florida Department of Corrections secretary Julie Jones stated in March 2017 that turnover for correctional officers rose 95 percent since 2009, adding that about 75 percent of correctional officers in state employment possessed less than two years of experience. Furthermore, the Appeal reported, executive director of the Florida Justice Institute, Randall C. Berg, noted that the Florida prison system needs at least 1,000 guards more, clarifying that the prison system is understaffed by up to 1,000 guards because the legislature wants to cut costs.
Convinced that privatizing healthcare, budget cuts and understaffing has led to several deaths in state prisons, the Florida Justice Institute is suing the Florida Department of Corrections for several wrongful death litigations.
The court filed a preliminary injunction, ordering in December 2017 that the corrections department must begin to treat inmates suffering from hepatitis C. The department also settled a $1.7 million lawsuit over failing to provide treatment for a hernia in April 2017.
Florida Prison Budget Cuts
In another case, Donna Pickelsimer died from undiagnosed lung cancer while all the prison medical staff did was give her Tylenol and cold compresses for many months. Another inmate at the Lowell Correctional Institution, 48-year-old Michelle Tierney was treated for arthritis in prison, but eventually died from untreated cysts, pneumonia and septic shock. The Department of Corrections ruled these deaths as natural in 2014.
The Department of Corrections told The Appeal that said the deaths “occurred in 2014 when the department was under different leadership and contracted with a different provider for inmate health services.”
Most recently, in May of 2018, the Florida governor signed a state budget that cut prison funding by another $28 million. The new budget will cut mental health care, substance abuse, re-entry and work release programs.
According to The Appeal, Florida’s current provider for health care in the prisons is Centurion who received a $375 million deal to provide health care to all of the Florida prisons. The new contract is nearly $40 million higher than previous contracts to provide health care, and includes an 11.5 percent “administrative fee.”