Civil Rights Groups Call for Federal Investigation into Solitary Confinement Abuse in Florida Prisons

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
March 11, 2016 3:15 pm

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A coalition of civil rights organizations, faith leaders and advocates for the mentally ill are calling on the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division to investigate the overuse of solitary confinement in Florida prisons. The request for federal intervention follows several high-profile deaths and cases of abuse.

In a letter sent today to Vanita Gupta, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the DOJ Civil Rights Division, the groups are calling for an investigation into any violations of federal law regarding the humane treatment of prisoners.

“Just as our country now realizes that we are incarcerating too many people, we must also recognize that we have too many people in solitary confinement,” stated Steven Wetstein of the Miami Chapter of Amnesty International USA. “This causes needless suffering and leaves them less able to be responsible citizens when they leave prison. Public security, fiscal responsibility and our common humanity will all be strengthened by using solitary confinement less.”

The letter, co-authored by Wetstein and Howard Simon, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida, argues that the way solitary confinement is being used in Florida prisons, which has led to the deaths of several inmates and several other reported instances of abuse, violates the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA). The letter cites cases like that of Randall Jordan-Aparo, who died after being gassed three times in a solitary confinement cell and being denied medical care despite the prison’s knowledge of an existing illness, and Darren Rainey, who was scalded to death while locked by guards in a prison shower.

“The torture and abuse of inmates at the hands of staff is unconscionable,” stated Howard Simon. “More than 12,000 people — one in eight inmates in Florida prisons — are being held in solitary confinement, where we know people are being beaten, gassed, sexually assaulted, and even scalded to death. If the state cannot take responsibility for past abuses and put a stop to what is happening in its prisons, then the federal government must take action.”

Besides the high profile incidents of abuse and prisoner death, the letter also points to the disparate use of solitary confinement on minorities and people with mental illnesses. Based on 2015 data from the Florida Department of Corrections, despite making up 44% of the prison population, Black inmates make up 57% of the inmates in solitary confinement. Further, nearly a quarter of all inmates with mental illnesses are housed in solitary confinement. Westein added: “Solitary confinement in Florida exemplifies many of the faults we must correct in Florida’s prisons: it falls most heavily on African-Americans and the mentally ill, and has been where many brutal deaths have occurred—including that of Darren Rainey, whose murder still cries out for justice almost four years beyond his death.”

The letter is co-signed by: Randall Berg, Executive Director, Florida Justice Institute; Rev. Dr. Russell L. Meyer, Executive Director, Florida Council of Churches; Adora Obi Nweze, President, Florida State Conference of the NAACP; George Mallinckrodt, Stop Prison Abuse Now (SPAN); Marc Dubin, Esq., Director, ADA Expertise Consulting, LLC; Robin Cole, President, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Miami; Christopher Jones, Director Florida Institutional Legal Services; Amy McClellan, Board of Directors The Key Clubhouse of Miami; Sevell C. Brown III, National Director, National Christian League of Councils; and Paul Wright Director, Human Rights Defense Center, and editor, Prison Legal News.

The letter concludes:

“We believe the abuses catalogued here are just a fraction of the wrongs committed against those in solitary confinement. As Americans devoted to the rule of law, and the Constitutional rights it protects, we call upon the Department of Justice to vigorously investigate this matter to determine whether the conditions outlined here violate the provisions of the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act.”

A copy of the letter is available here:

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