The despicable treatment of America’s inmates is one of the nation’s most underreported scandals — likely because much of the nation perceives the prison system to be filled with scary and undeserving Black men.
So the fact that the state of Florida fired nearly three dozen guards Friday because of a spate of inmate deaths should be considered a remarkably unusual development.
The move by the state was first reported in the Miami Herald, which said Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Michael Crews dismissed 32 guards Friday, all of them accused of criminal misconduct or wrongdoing stemming from inmate deaths at four different prisons.
One of the most horrifying cases involved the 2012 death of mentally ill prisoner Darren Rainey, whose treatment was the subject of a letter the American Civil Liberties Union sent in June to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking for a federal investigation into his death. The ACLU alleged the state of Florida had tried to “cover it up.”
According to the ACLU letter, Rainey was punished by being blasted with scalding hot water in a locked closet-sized shower at the state’s Dade Correctional Institution in Miami. Two hours later, Rainey was found dead with his skin separated from his body, the letter said, as the temperature of the water was measured at 180 degrees.
Florida is just the latest state to be slapped with accusations of mistreatment of inmates resulting in death.
In Louisville, Kentucky, seven sick prisoners died in 2012 at Metro Corrections, a Corizon jail. Afterward, according to a report in The Nation, six employees quit their jobs during an investigation by the jail that found that the workers “may have contributed” to two of the deaths.
Earlier this year, The New York Times obtained a secret report prepared by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which handles medical care at the Rikers Island jail, revealing that over an 11-month period last year, 129 inmates suffered “serious injuries” in altercations with correction department staff members — including fractures, wounds requiring stitches, head injuries and the like. Disturbingly, the report said 77 percent of the seriously injured inmates had received a mental illness diagnosis.
In July, New York City agreed to pay $2.75 million to settle a lawsuit connected to the December 2012 death of a prisoner at Rikers Island — 52-year-old Black man Ronald Spear, who had kidney problems and walked with a cane — whose death was ruled a homicide after “blunt force trauma” to the head.
Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said of the Florida cases, “These revelations that are coming out are not about incompetence. They’re about guards killing people and public officials working feverishly to cover it up.”
“The lack of consistent consequences for the same crime has the potential of undermining the culture of professionalism that is necessary for running institutions with integrity,” Crews wrote in a memo claiming the department had not been holding the staff accountable.