Make no mistake: I am no softie on crime. Nor do I believe that criminals should be coddled or treated with kid gloves. Those who break our laws should be held accountable for their actions. Whether they are serving time for drug possession, drug trafficking, burglary, aggravated assault or murder, they are the wards of the state’s Department of Corrections. As such, the state is responsible for their basic human rights, including feeding them and providing health care.
Having served as chairwoman of the Senate’s Criminal Justice committee for several years, I had the unpleasant task of visiting a dozen or so of our prisons. If anyone believes inmates enjoy a cozy life at a state prison, they’re grossly mistaken. Most prisons are not air-conditioned, and are old and in need of maintenance and major repairs.
Inmates are expected to work on the prison grounds, have limited visitation and very few privileges. Some inmates are in cells, but the majority are in dormitory settings with rows of beds that are very close together.
Inmates serving time for nonviolent offenses are mixed in with the general population. Add to this dangerous mix the increasing use of our prisons to house the mentally ill. Our corrections officers have a tough and dangerous job with some of the worst-of-the-worst criminals and dangerous gang members. It’s neither easy nor glamorous, and the pay and benefits don’t compensate officers for the danger they put themselves in daily. The majority of officers and their supervisors are decent, hardworking men and women who deserve our respect and appreciation.
As with any organization, there are always some bad apples. When they become emboldened in our prisons, the consequences can be deadly. Strong leadership is needed at the top of the department and within each of our correctional facilities. Very few people other than family and friends of those incarcerated give much thought to the treatment of inmates and muster very little sympathy for their circumstance.
But at a minimum, we should agree that inmates have the basic human rights to not be beaten, sodomized, scalded or tortured. Even those of us who believe in harsh punishment should be incensed at what is happening in the Florida Department of Corrections, the inability of those within the system to stop it and the efforts by some in the system to cover it up.
Four investigators within the DOC filed a federal whistle-blower complaint weeks ago depicting a corrupt system. They allege that: state inmates were beaten and tortured; guards smuggled in drugs in exchange for money and sex; and guards used gang members to control the prison population. Their efforts to expose the abuses were met with retaliation, including internal affairs complaints. Two of the most egregious cases they reported:
The death of Randall Jordan-Aparo, 27, whose body was coated with yellow chemical gas. He begged for help for five days in solitary confinement. He was serving an 18-month sentence for credit card fraud and drug charges.
The death of Darren Rainey, a mentally ill inmate placed in a scalding hot shower as punishment for defecating in his cell. He begged for help before he died. He was serving two years for drug possession. Another inmate claims he was ordered to clean up the crime scene and discard the melted skin that stuck to the floor.
When Secretary Mike Crews showed very little concern over these allegations, former DOC chief James McDonough was quick to ask, “Where is the outrage?” Gov. Rick Scott has been remarkably quiet about these travesties, even as deaths have climbed and cover-ups have been exposed. Why isn’t he demanding accountability?
I’m not sure which is worse: the corruption, torture, sadism and murder or the blatant attempts to intimidate, retaliate and cover up the facts. This isn’t a Third World country, and that kind of barbarian behavior cannot be allowed to fester in our institutions.
Indeed, where is the outrage?
Paula Dockery served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Lakeland Republican.