Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘florida

Miami Jails Provide Inadequate Suicide Prevention, Health Care, Says DOJ

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The Miami Herald reports:

A Justice Department investigation has found numerous medical and mental health problems in Miami-Dade County jails.

The Civil Rights Division investigation says the jail system is indifferent to suicide risks, fails to provide adequate mental illness treatment and disregards medical needs including chronic health problems. The probe also found inadequate fire systems and bad sanitation, as well as risks of violence on inmates by fellow prisoners.

The investigation says these problems violate constitutional rights of prisoners and cause them physical harm, including death. The investigation began in 2008.


Written by sara

August 29, 2011 at 7:34 am

Florida Corrections Chief Abruptly Resigns After Disputes with Gov. Rick Scott

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From the day he took office, Gov. Rick Scott has set out to shake up Florida’s prison system — the nation’s third-largest after California and Texas — pushing for privatization of many facilities and bringing in outside talent, Edwin Buss, to run the Department of Corrections. Buss made a national reputation within the corrections field by cutting costs in Indiana’s prisons, and Florida won a hard-fought bidding war with Michigan to hire him away. When he got to Florida, Buss brought in 14 staffers from Indiana and announced a variety of reform proposals, including expanding reentry programs and updating some of the Sunshine State’s more antiquated facilities.

This week, Buss abruptly resigned. The Miami Herald reports:

A soft-spoken U.S. Army veteran, Buss seemed unprepared for the amount of scrutiny legislators, interest groups and media give to Florida’s prisons, which have a legacy of controversy and scandal. He also said he had more autonomy in his previous job as Indiana’s chief of prisons.

Buss, 45, ran afoul of Scott aides on two recent issues.

He did not let the Governor’s Office review a health care privatization contract worth up to $400 million before posting it on the agency website. The contract stipulated that health care vendors must be accredited by the American Correctional Association, whose director, James Gondles, is the husband of Betty Gondles, the consultant Buss hired to prepare the contract.

Under pressure from Scott’s office, Gondles ended her $180,000, 10-month consulting job Wednesday.

Buss also signed a deal with MSNBC to tape six episodes of its Lockup series in Santa Rosa Correctional Institution without letting Scott’s attorneys review it. When the Governor’s Office moved to cancel the contract, the prison system answered with an e-mail showing Scott’s aides knew of the TV deal in April, but by then the contract was signed.

Ironically, Scott’s lawyers approved the MSNBC contract hours before Buss resigned.

The Herald also notes that Buss’s job was recently made more difficult by the challenge of privatizing 30 South Florida prisons in six months, as mandated by the Legislature — a move that may cost the prison system $25 million in compensation to terminated employees for unused leave.

(h/t: The Crime Report)

Written by sara

August 26, 2011 at 7:36 am

Florida Legislature Shuts Down Prison Oversight Agency

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Over Gov. Rick Scott’s veto, the Florida Legislature recently defunded the Correctional Medical Authority, effectively abolishing a state agency created in 1986 in response to prison conditions litigation. The agency went around Florida evaluating whether its public and private prisons were providing constitutionally adequate health care. A spokesperson says the Legislature has “no obligation to restore funding following the veto of the Governor,” so for now the agency is shut down.

Democratic legislators are accusing the Legislature of inviting lawsuits:

“The shuttering of the Correctional Medical Authority was a grave mistake opening Florida and Florida taxpayers to the possibility of widespread financial and legal repercussions,” Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, and Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, said Friday. …

“By allowing legislative interference to block its funding, the closure of the CMA potentially violates, at a minimum, the spirit of Justice Susan Black’s 1993 court order settling the Costello v. Wainright class action litigation,” Joyner and Pafford said in a joint statement. “Despite our efforts, and the governor’s veto of legislation eliminating the oversight group, the CMA was finished off behind the scenes, and outside the scrutiny of the media, the public, and other key stakeholders.

“To pre-empt any attempts to hold the state of Florida in contempt, or open the door to new litigation as a result of its closure, we urge Governor Scott to explore all possible options, including the issuance of an executive order sustaining the CMA’s operations pending the return of the Legislature.”

(The Florida agency’s annual budget was under $800,000, which might seem like a savings compared to the millions that California has spent on litigation over its prison health care system, but what do I know.)

Florida Law Enforcement Organization Sues to Block Privatization of 30 Prisons

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Here’s an interesting lawsuit: The Florida Police Benevolent Association has filed suit to enjoin Gov. Rick Scott’s plan to privatize 30 prisons across South Florida. Those prisons currently hold about 20% of the state prison population. The Florida Legislature mandated the switch in the 2011-12 state budget as a cost-cutting measure (it’s actually not clear that private prisons cost less, BTW), with the Corrections Department under orders to have vendors in place by the first of January 2012. The Miami Herald reports:

The PBA suit, filed in Leon County Circuit Court in Tallahassee, says the state has not conducted a cost study to determine whether privatization would save money.

It also says that the state failed to comply with a law requiring an agency to conduct a “business case” to justify any outsourcing in excess of $10 million.

Separate from its lawsuit, the correctional officers’ union has requested extensive public records from the prison system, including a list of every factor the state uses to determine the cost of running a prison.

Some context: First, according to a recent analysis by finance blogger Mike Konczal at Rortybomb, Florida is not currently a high user of private prisons relative to other states, with under 10% of its prisoners in private facilities. But Konczal hypothesizes that “once a state flips to using private contractors, they use them a lot” — so the Florida PBA is probably not wrong to worry that flipping 30 prisons could be the harbinger of more privatization to come.  Read the rest of this entry »

Written by sara

July 21, 2011 at 8:17 am

The Paradox of Prison Conditions Litigation

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Heather Schoenfeld of Northwestern Law has a new article out entitled “Mass Incarceration and the Paradox of Prison Conditions Litigation” (h/t: Legal History Blog). From the abstract:

In this article I examine how prison conditions litigation in the 1970s, as an outgrowth of the civil rights movement, inadvertently contributed to the rise of mass incarceration in the United States. Using Florida as a case study, I detail how prison conditions litigation that aimed to reduce incarceration was translated in the political arena as a court order to build prisons. … The findings suggest how “successful” court challenges for institutional change can have long-term outcomes that are contrary to social justice goals. The paradox of prison litigation is especially compelling because inmates’ lawyers were specifically concerned about racial injustice, yet mass incarceration is arguably the greatest obstacle to racial equality in the twenty-first century.

Written by sara

February 11, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Pinellas County, Florida, Reduces Reliance on Bail and Jail

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photo by ilmungo (click photo for flickr original)

A headline in today’s St. Petersburg Times paints a frightening picture of the Pinellas County criminal justice system: “Thousands of Pinellas jail inmates released without a judge ever setting bail.” But the facts in the article paint quite a different picture: a seemingly well-functioning criminal justice system in which people arrested for low-level crimes and not assessed to be a safety or flight risk — the opening anecdote describes a gentleman arrested for cocaine possession — are spared the indignity of checking into jail (complete with strip search) and the hardship of coming up with a sizable (and nonrefundable) chunk of change for a bail bondsman. (I would be curious to hear from any readers with firsthand experience with the Pinellas County system as to which picture is more accurate.)

The article reports that the Pinellas County sheriff’s department makes extensive use of its authority to “R.O.R.” arrestees (or “release on own recognizance,” with an affidavit promising to appear in court), pursuant to a 2007 administrative order by Chief Deputy Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. Of course, criteria such as community ties and severity of past offenses still factor into the decision whether to require bail. The article really buries the lede, because the headline notwithstanding, so far the results of Gualtieri’s policy don’t seem too bad:

The Pinellas Sheriff’s Office saved at least $126 per person, the cost to house an inmate for a day — a total that jail officials think could come close to $1 million by year’s end — and had one fewer occupied bunk in the jail. …

And the failure-to-appear rate in Pinellas, 5 percent, has historically been below the national average of 20 percent, Gualtieri said. Figures were not available on whether the Pinellas percentage has changed of late.

Bernie McCabe, state attorney for Pinellas and Pasco, said he is unaware of a single case in which an accused felon committed additional crimes while on administrative recognizance release.

Considering that jails around the country are overstuffed with indigent defendants who haven’t been charged with particularly serious crimes but simply can’t afford to make bail, other jurisdictions may want to look to Pinellas County as an example. Of course, I’m sure the bail bonds industry wouldn’t be happy about that.

Written by sara

July 5, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Supreme Court Rules on Juvenile LWOP, Federal Civil Commitment of Sex Offenders

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The Supreme Court issued two rulings today in cases whose facts implicate big-picture questions about crime and punishment, although the precise legal questions at issue in both — and therefore the import of these opinions — are narrower than those big-picture questions. In Graham v. Florida, a divided court held that a life-without-parole (LWOP) sentence for a juvenile convicted of burglary violates the Eighth Amendment. In United States v. Comstock, the court held 7-2 (with Scalia and Thomas dissenting) that the federal government’s civil commitment program for “sexually dangerous” offenders does not exceed Congress’s constitutional authority. You can access links to the opinions and related documents at How Appealing, legal analysis at SCOTUSblog, and an interesting perspective on how PR concerns may have driven the Court’s treatment of these cases over at Sentencing Law & Policy (where you can also find lots more commentary from Doug Berman on these opinions, including several posts on Graham).

Note that, as Lyle Denniston observes at SCOTUSblog, Graham does not require or even necessarily contemplate the actual release of juvenile LWOP prisoners. Rather, Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the Court holds merely that these prisoners must be afforded “some meaningful opportunity” to present a case that they have matured and are fit to re-enter society. However, Justice Kennedy was quick to make clear, “[t]hose who commit truly horrifying crimes as juveniles may turn out to be irredeemable, and thus deserving of incarceration for the duration of their lives.” There is a lot going on in this sentence alone — a lot of assumptions and value judgments — that merits further unpacking.

I’d also note that insofar as juveniles have now won a right to a parole hearing, we might question how meaningful of a right that really is (notwithstanding the “some meaningful opportunity” language) given that in many states, parole hearings have become a sort of charade in which the prisoner can never actually win release, because the parole board routinely denies parole eligbility based solely upon the facts of the underlying crime, which is the one thing that the prisoner, of course, can never change. I am not too familiar with how parole works in Florida, which is home to most of the country’s juvenile LWOP prisoners, but I’ve blogged previously about challenges to rubber-stamp parole boards in Virginia and Michigan. After I’ve had a chance to read the opinions more closely, I’ll blog again about any notable prison implications I see, but for now, hopefully the above links and impressions will get readers started in learning and thinking about these opinions.

Florida Inmates Challenge Jail’s Postcard-Only Policy

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The AP and the Gainesville (Fla.) Sun both have reports on policies in a handful of Florida counties that limit jail inmates’ mail to postcards only (with exceptions for legal correspondence). Jail officials say that the policy both cuts down on contraband and gets inmates their mail faster since it’s easier to sort. However, a group of Manatee County inmates have filed a federal lawsuit challenging the policy as a First Amendment violation. From the AP article:

Manatee’s policy, begun in June, even restricts writing to blue or black ink, and bars drawings of any kind. Jail officials say the restrictions prevent gang symbols and communication.

Attorneys for the Manatee inmates and relatives, James E. Felman and Katherine Earle Yanes, filed a 22-page amended complaint Feb. 18 alleging the rule unfairly limits the inmates’ primary means of communication.

It even prevents relatives from sending children’s drawings or family pictures, the complaint alleges.

Yanes said most inmates are being detained pretrial, and haven’t even been convicted of wrongdoing.

“The First Amendment protects the rights of inmates, just like it protects the rights of everyone in this country,” she said. “It’s not only the inmates’ rights that are implicated in this, but the rights of anyone who wants to communicate to inmates.” …

Case law may be on the jails’ side, said John F. Stinneford, assistant professor of law at the University of Florida. Stinneford said courts have found similar jail restrictions constitutional if they represent a legitimate government interest [such as security].

“Obviously, there are certain types of communication the prisoners won’t be able to receive via postcard,” Stinneford said. “But I’m not sure that is going to be big enough of a problem to overcome.”

Written by sara

March 1, 2010 at 7:15 am

Census Bureau to States: Count Prisoners Where You Want

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The U.S. Census Bureau has agreed to release 2010 population data in a way that will give states the option of whether or not to count prisoners as residents of the county where they’re incarcerated. Although it’s too late for prisoners to be counted at their home addresses in the 2010 Census, this announcement paves at least some of the way for reforms being urged by civil rights groups around the country to eliminate the practice of so-called “prison gerrymandering.” The New York Times reports:

A number of states — including Florida, Illinois, Maryland, New York and Wisconsin — are weighing legislation requiring that prisoners be counted at their last known address — for purposes of reapportionment, a change that would likely favor larger and mostly Democratic cities.

In New York, the change could prove pivotal because of the see-saw fight for control of the State Senate and the fact that the state faces the loss of at least one Congressional seat after the 2010 census.

“Most people in prison in America are urban and African-American or Latino,” Representative William Lacy Clay, a Missouri Democrat who is chairman of the census subcommittee, wrote the bureau, but the 2010 census “will again be counting incarcerated people as residents of the rural, predominantly white communities that contain prisons.”

Other groups that have lobbied for the change include the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund Inc. and Demos, a research and advocacy organization.

The New York Times editorialized its approval of the Census change here; I previously blogged about the issue here.

Written by sara

February 11, 2010 at 2:01 pm

Prisoner Art on View in Florida

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The Palm Beach Post has this article on a prisoner art exhibit at the recently opened Night Heron Grassroots Activist Center in Lake Worth, Fla., as well as this photo gallery with images of some of the artwork. On view through Feb. 6, and curated by West Palm Beach artist Carol Strick, the exhibit features about 80 original works by prisoners around the country:

Among the most disturbing works by Haitian artist Jean Cadet depict the destruction of family that occurs when a father goes to prison. The mother has a nail through her forehead. One son sits strapped into an electric chair; another son has his face buried in his hands. A young child is a pawn in a chess game.

Written by sara

January 30, 2010 at 12:35 pm

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