Civil Liberties

Florida Prisons Are a Slow-Motion Disaster

"We are a prison system that's overstuffed and under-guarded, and that is a lethal combination of policies," says state Sen. Jeff Brandes.

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On August 21, an inmate at Lowell Correctional Institution, Florida's largest women's prison, was transported to the hospital with a broken neck. According to eyewitness accounts that immediately began to leak, she was yet another victim of brutality at the facility.

The inmate, 51-year-old Cheryl Weimar, is now a quadriplegic, according to her lawyer. A lawsuit Weimar filed claims she was beaten by four guards after complaining that she couldn't clean toilets because of chronic hip pain.

Weimar's beating put a gruesome spotlight on the slow-motion disaster unfolding inside Florida's prison system. Inmates face sweltering heat and poor conditions. Low wages and high turnover mean persistent staff shortages, and guards engage in violence and cover-ups.

"I don't know what to tell you, but this is a culture in Florida that has gone on for 45, 50 years," says Democratic state Rep. Dianne Hart. "How do we expect them to change overnight without somebody really putting their foot down on them?"

Hart's former brother-in-law, Carlton Hart, was beaten by guards inside another Florida prison this summer. Hart says officers broke his jaw, nose, and cheekbone and shattered his eye socket.

Last August, the Justice Department launched a civil rights investigation into pervasive misconduct, including sexual abuse, by staff at Lowell. A 2015 Miami Herald investigation found numerous accusations of assaults, retaliation, filthy conditions, inadequate health care, and suspicious deaths at the prison.

A bipartisan group of Florida state lawmakers has been sounding the alarm for years now. "This isn't rocket science," says Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes. "We are a prison system that's overstuffed and under-guarded, and that is a lethal combination of policies."

Florida is far from the only state with these problems. In April, the Justice Department warned Alabama that its failure to protect inmates from rampant violence and sexual abuse violated the Eighth Amendment. The Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting detailed this year that one state prison is, in effect, run by violent gangs rather than guards. And in North Carolina, an animal rescue group that started a program to teach inmates at a women's prison how to train dogs had to discontinue the program during the summer due to the lack of air conditioning. It's inhumane to keep the dogs in hot cells but apparently not to keep human beings there.

Florida is a warning. States that pursued mass incarceration but don't, won't, or can't muster the political will for reform will see their prisons turn into the kind of hellholes that left Cheryl Weimar paralyzed.

NEXT: The FBI Rebrands Its Sex Worker Harassment Campaign 

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  1. US is proof that any people that loudly proclaims liberty will embrace mass incarceration as the means to get there.

    1. Florida Man has been so busy catching perps that the prisons are getting full. The only solution is to build more prisons.

    2. Nice sound bite. It would have more of a ring of truth if totalitarian regimes like the Norks didn’t lock up 100% of their population, but it sure SOUNDS good.

      All societies have problems with what to do with criminals. Some kill them. This generally leads to wrongful executions and bad feelings. Some send them to prison colonies, which range from Australia to hell-on-earth. Some elect them, which explains most of the regimes in the Third World. And some try prisons.

      I think we could solve a lot of our prison problem if we dropped the War on Drugs. More could be dealt with by admitting that sex work is work, and that ‘human trafficking’ is mostly sick sex-fantasy scenarios dreamed up by authoritarian stooges.

      Hang all the Lawyers, and we’d be halfway to Paradise ????

      1. But don’t kid yourself. There are a ton of people in prison who are not drug dealers and hookers and who have done crimes that merit their being there.

        I think that we need to reconsider corporal punishment. Why is locking someone in a cage for years somehow more human than canning them?

        1. I think that we need to reconsider corporal punishment.

          I think militia service might do a better job. That does not mean conscription. Nor does it mean some anal NRA idea of a militia where that means solely gun training. I mean the basic cultural idea of ‘what is one’s valuable role in your community as you become an adult’. Militia as the means of defending that community is simply one of those roles.

          This ‘misbehavior’ problem is essentially a problem that we have in this country with boys turning into young men. Where culturally father-figures aren’t doing the job of providing a role model. Where societally we do nothing except play gotcha when they fuck up. And there is no ‘rite of passage’ to mark that transition.

        2. Oh, I’m not saying that the whole prison population is made up of drug dealers and streetwalkers. I’m saying that if we subtracted those out, and put the drug gangs in a position to take their territorial disputes to court instead of shooting it out, the prison problem would be smaller. Maybe even small enough to deal with.

          1. Between the two of those you’d cut about half of federal prisoners, but a bit less than 20% of state ones.

            So, I think that some of the criminal justice reforms could help alleviate the problem indirectly, so that fewer people are pleading out to stuff they haven’t done (or at least that the state can’t really prove). But that still leaves a considerably higher number of violent criminals in prison in the US relative to other nations (mostly european ones, for comparison). I’ll admit it’s not clear whether america is uniquely more violent or those countries just imprison their violent offenders at a lower rate (or more likely, for shorter sentences). But if we feel that our incarceration rates should mirror those of other first world countries, we’ll probably have to consider the question.

        3. Or caning them even!
          (Oh no! Don’t FIRE the guy!)

      2. Norks don’t loudly proclaim liberty or present themselves as having it. We do. Course it doesn’t surprise me that most waddabouters prefer setting the standards really fucking low.

        Incarceration rate by country

        And pretty much every other country also has War on Drugs or prostitution or whatever so that ain’t the solution either.

        1. Oh, don’t kid yourself. Of COURSE the North Korean government trumpets its commitment to liberty for all. So does the Peoples’ Republic of Shut Up and Eat Your Veggie Stir Fry. So do almost all of the tinpot dictatorships. It’s just that the Media, having observed that folks have caught on to Walter Duranty style reporting, don’t repeat it much.

          1. Apparently you have the same notions of liberty as North Korea

    3. Even if you released every person incarcerated for what can be described as “victimless crimes”, you still would have a huge prison population. Contrary to the impression left by Reason a lot of people who are in prison belong there.

      The fact is we have a very violent and unruly society. We always have. I don’t know what you do about that or why that fact makes our embrace of freedom somehow illegitimate. Do you think we would be more free if we stopped punishing criminals?

      1. I was a correctional officer for two years at a close custody prison. I genuinely liked many, maybe even most, of the inmates. But they had still done violent, stupid, terrible things and what do you do with them for having done that? Not everyone in prison is a monster, some were in the wrong place at the wrong time, some made a terrible mistake and some are likely innocent. But all you can do is consistently enforce the rules, try to prevent the real predators among them from preying on the rest and maintain a certain degree of order. Prison is mostly just incredibly boring, as near as I could tell, I’d hate to have to serve any sentence, but I knew inmates who said that they had lived harder on the outside.

        1. Prison is easy for some people and thus not much of a deterrent.

      2. The fact is we have a very violent and unruly society.

        No we don’t. We actually have pretty low levels of violence. We do have very lethal violence (reflected in the homicide rates) but assault/robbery/rape/etc are all generally lower than Europe.

        What we don’t have is the slightest interest in or inclination to do anything except warehouse offenders. And since that doesn’t do anything, we increase the length of warehousing in order to forget that it doesn’t work.

    4. I prefer the libertarian solution: exile.

      1. You mean like the Brits with Australia? Forcing prisoners to sip Fosters is cruel and unusual, you know.

    5. The comment software is FUBAR.
      Keeps dropping comments.

  2. As a left-libertarian, I believe the US locks up far too many people. We should really stop doing that. Or at least, if we’re going to have so many prisoners, we need to let them vote from behind bars.

    #LibertariansForPrisonerVoting
    #(IncludingRapistsAndMurderers)

    1. Ideally we don’t want every criminal to vote. Imagine if we let illicit straw users vote, for instance. The climate might never recover.

      1. Not really sure why having prisoners vote would be a problem. I understand the idea of with holding the privilege as part of punishment. But I don’t think giving prisoners the right to vote would cause any great problem. I don’t think that candidates would run on a platform of allowing bank robbery just to get the prisoners votes.

        1. In all seriousness, I don’t think people are worried about criminals’ exact political views, per se, so much as the fact that letting them vote could lead to higher corruption.

          Basically it boils down to this:

          In the general population, if you don’t care about politics you don’t vote.
          In the criminal population, if you don’t care about politics you still might vote if the price was right.

      2. Straw men are definitely a problem.

    2. I think that a convicted prisoner should be deprived of both the franchise and the right to bear arms…while his (or her) sentence runs. Sentence over? Welcome back to society, Mr. Citizen.

      1. For most crimes, I agree. But for crimes against the public trust, officials who take bribes and such or for violent crimes, I think the person should lose their say in government.

        1. “But for crimes against the public trust, officials who take bribes and such or for violent crimes, I think the person should lose their say in government.”

          Democrats: But muh constituents!

        2. Then make the sentence for those crimes life in prison or lifelong parol.

          I would add ‘death’, but the current state of law enforcement makes me unhappy with the likelihood of executing someone who should have been released.

  3. For much of my adult life I have listen to political candidates talk about getting tough on crime. The results have largely been a greater part of the population in jails and prison. Now we are dealing with the problem. I hope the next politician suggesting a tough on crime policy is asked how they will address the resulting prison population. Specifically are they willing to provide funds through taxes for the prisons?

  4. re: “It’s inhumane to keep the dogs in hot cells but apparently not to keep human beings there.”

    Actually, that’s entirely true – and biologically appropriate. Humans have sweat glands. As long as a healthy human has access to water and can stay well hydrated, humans can tolerate temperatures up to 140F for extended periods. (There are known examples of humans experiencing short periods of temperatures up to 250F with no ill effects.)

    Dogs, on the other hand, have no sweat glands. Their sole form of cooling is to pant – basically, breathing fast over a wet tongue. This provides some thermoregulation but not nearly as much as a human body’s capacity to sweat. Breed also matters a lot for dogs. A samoyed has much less cooling capacity (as a ratio of body mass) than a chihuahua.

    1. Known examples? We call that a sauna.

      1. Most saunas only go up to 170-190F – high but not as high as the scientific experiments that went to 250F. Most high-temperature sauna baths are also limited to 15 min or so. The experiments tested endurance on a scale of hours.

  5. I hate that nonviolent and victimless crimes are harshly punished. There are so many other effective deterrents or punishments.

    1. So you have no problem with the legal system getting involved in victimless crimes, you just don’t like the punishments?

    2. No reason in the world to keep non-violent offenders in a prison. Even if its for victimed crimes, house arrest and ankle bracelets are sufficient.

  6. Don’t know about other states, but here in California the prisons are hell and the prison guards are its demons.

    Nothing the state loves better than building new prisons out in the boonies where the Democrat voters can’t see them. The poorer the county the more prisons. The guards themselves are thugs. I had to do a lot of work in a prison town, and met a lot of ex-guards who just had to get out of the racket for their own sanity. They told me stories that still give me the shivers. One of them had to flee the area because the other guards put a hit out on her for whistleblowing.

    It’s the attitude the current guards exude that gives me the shivers. Straight out of Cool Hand Luke. They’re the authoritah and you will respect them, even if you’re not in prison. They swagger and strut around town like SS officers. Always intimidating local shop owners into discounts. Shit like that. Not even the cops I know act like that.

    It’s a soul destroying job. And people either escape it or they embrace it. Those that embrace it scare the shit out of me.

    Also, the prison guard union is the second most powerful union in this bluer than blue state. How? Do they have dirt on the legislators? My guess is that they’re the largest employer for 50 out of 58 counties in the state.

  7. You know who else’s prison system had a lethal combination of policies?

    1. All of them?

  8. Anti Whites don’t want ‘Diversity’, just Less White People. Preferably No White People.

    Nations, borders, homogeneity are fine for non White peoples.
    White “Privilege” is Open Borders

    No White family is allowed to escape “diversity”. It means Chasing Down White Flight.

    Anti Whites don’t list the moral advancements gifted to the world by the West, like the abolition of slavery and creating the most free societies the rest of the world is desperate to move Towards, rather than Away from.

    1. What the fuck does this have to do with the issue at hand?

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