Settlement reached in Florida prison case

Empty Jail Cell
Florida to Correct Abusive Practices

The Florida Department of Corrections and disability advocates announced May 28 that they have reached a comprehensive settlement to eliminate abusive practices at the Dade Correctional Facility, home of the largest mental health facility in the state’s prison system.

Disability Rights Florida, the Florida Institutional Legal Services Project and Holland & Knight filed a class-action lawsuit against the state in September 2014, accusing the DOC of inflicting cruel and unusual punishment on inmates with mental illness, as well as systematically violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.

The catalyst of the lawsuit was the tragedy of Darren Rainey, a 50-year old black man with mental illness. As reported in a series of articles in the Miami Herald, prison officers, after finding that he defecated in his cell, punished Rainey by placing him in a shower, with the water temperature turned up to 180 degrees.

An hour and a half later, Rainey was found dead, with burns over 90 percent of his body.

The advocacy groups subsequently investigated the facility, finding numerous other examples of abusive practices, including guards forcing inmates to perform sexual acts, a pattern of excessive use of force, and prison guards placing laxatives and urine in inmates’ food, according to the Miami Herald.

“Mr. Rainey was not the only victim of the shower treatment. What we learned is that, to some extent, those same abuses were affecting others in the unit,’’ Peter Sleasman, of the Florida Institutional Legal Services Project, told the Miami Herald.

The settlement agreement requires the DOC to take a variety of steps to improve its treatment of prisoners with mental illness. It must provide Crisis Intervention Training to all prison staff and specialized training for officers interacting directly with prisoners with mental illness.

To improve security, the facility must expand its video monitoring and hire additional staff. A new Assistant Warden position will be created to oversee these efforts and outside experts will periodically review the facility’s practices. The DOC must also hire a Mental Health Ombudsman.

The agreement, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, is in effect and will remain so until May 2017, provided that the DOC complies with the terms of the settlement.

Disability Rights Florida, and Disability Rights Washington, the publisher of Rooted in Rights, are part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and members of the National Disability Rights Network.