It’s not unusual for a Clearwater criminal defense attorney to learn of incidents where Tampa Bay jails provide cruel and unusual punishment. But for the victim of a stroke who committed no crime at all, his erratic driving led to his being tortured in a slow prison death because police failed to recognize the symptoms of his stroke, while later the jail failed to give proper medical attention and screening.
|Picasso’s Old Guitarist, 1903
The stroke victim’s relentless march toward doom began with a trooper from the Florida Highway Patrol and a Deputy from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office arresting him for obstruction after they observed erratic driving, and upon stopping the vehicle as a possible DUI, noted that he failed to obey the officers’ orders. Nether officer sought medical help for the incoherent man.
Once at the Orient Jail in Tampa the man not only received no medical attention upon intake but according to press reports the stroke victim:
… was put in a cell where he lay facedown on the floor to crawl using the one working side of his body. On the night of May 12, soaked in his own urine, his brain choked of blood, he was at last taken to Tampa General Hospital and diagnosed with an ischemic stroke. He slipped into a coma and died…
Florida prisons now share such poor standards of care that even those who have committed no crime whatsoever may be destroyed. Although the Sheriff’s office should be commended for implementing new training procedures to look for signs of stroke, the Florida Highway Patrol has failed to take any measures to save someone’s life in the future.
Yet it was the jail’s failure to medically screen the stroke victim that must be noted as the proximate cause of the man’s tortured death. One wonders how much pain and suffering he endured during those thirty-six hours of neglect. Were there flashes of memory for moments, faint glimmers of human hope from long lost family picnics as a child softening some pain even as he lay dying from the callous prison system indifferent to human suffering and incapable of care?
Every inmate should be screened not only for stroke, but for heart problems, infectious viruses, TB or any other problem that could harm not only the prisoner but spread within the unsanitary prison system of Tampa Bay. When the state of Florida takes custody of a person, it must accept the obligation to keep that person safe.
Any one of us could have been that stroke victim. Yet Florida prisons continue to provide cruel and unusual punishment that is well below the standards of a humane society. Tampa Bay jails are over-crowded, unsafe, violent, dirty and as this case establishes places without proper medical care. Each of us must make it known that we will not stand by watching as official misconduct and neglect of our prison system causes the innocent to suffer and sometimes to die.
Your Clearwater criminal defense lawyer is often asked about the shameful treatment of prisoners in the Florida prison system. In Tampa Bay, Florida the worst prison I’ve come across is at the Pinellas County Jail.
Federal prisoners are routinely sent there because the jail needs the federal money per prisoner to defray the cost of housing its own prisoners.
|Over-crowding Jail solved.
Despite the fact that every Deputy I’ve met who works at the Pinellas County Jail has been dedicated, professional and helpful; it’s clear that the new Sheriff has failed in his primary responsibility to make the necessary changes so that prisoners are safe, have decent food and live in conditions that are not over-crowded.
First, the Pinellas jail is not safe. Many years as a prosecutor I handled a rape case where a young man who was being treated as an adult and was therefor at Pinellas County Jail awaiting his drug trial was raped and sodomized by a gang of thugs at the jail.
The perpetrators were found guilty of sexual battery at trial, but the young man’s life was unnecessarily ruined. The evidence I submitted to the jury was indisputable that Florida prisoners, especially the young or vulnerable, who find themselves incarcerated in Florida are not well protected from other prisoners.
Yet the Pinellas Jail is a dangerous place in other ways as well. It’s always a good idea to be careful while taking a stroll there always being mindful of where you are. One of my friends, an attorney, sued the Pinellas Jail when a heavy metal door cut off part of her finger.
But the loss of a finger is nothing compared to the prisoners who have died while waiting for proper medical care as has been reported in the press. Recently a federal Drug Enforcement Agent (DEA) told me that the only way he could ensure the safety of one of my federal clients from being harmed by other prisoners at teh Pinellas County Jail was to send my client to solitary confinement, thus severely punishing the very person they aim to protect.
Besides failing to provide a safe environment. The Pinellas County Jail fails in providing decent food to inmates. Every federal defendant I’ve represented who has spent time at the Pinellas County Jail has asked if there’s anything I can do about the horrible food. And yes, I’ve tried, but even upon showing a medical or religious food requirement the jail fails in a primary function of providing edible food. Why? The jail makes a tidy profit by forcing inmates to buy large quantities of additional food from vendors.
And it’s not just food that provides money thru vendors. A federal female inmate facing methamphetamine charges was ashamed to tell me that the jail would not provide her with clean underwear as it expected her to buy them. Further, she told me that she was only given up one hour a day in the fresh air. And like every other federal inmate housed there while waiting for trial or sentencing she told me the food is so poor that she can hardly eat it.
All of these issues take on even greater risk because of the fact that the jail is over-crowded. It’s odd that the jail is over-crowded when you consider that the crime rate is down in Pinellas County according to the Sheriff’s office, yet incarceration levels soar.
A large part of the problem of over-crowding in Florida jails is that Florida law makers are not doing enough to ensure that prisoners receive education, training and proper correction so that they have alternatives other than further crime upon achieving freedom as noted in the Miami Herald. But when there isn’t enough money being spent to protect, feed and clothe prisoners of course there won’t be enough to help them in other ways.
Apparently Circuit Judges in the state of Florida do not believe that the substandard care at the Pinellas County Jail equates to cruel and unusual punishment. However, the jail does not meet the higher standards and requirements of the Federal system. What action can be taken to remedy the lack of safety, the poor food, the reliance on vendors and over-crowding at the Pinellas Jail?
Your Tampa Bay Criminal Defense Attorney strongly urges Federal District Judges to direct the Federal Marshall’s office to refuse to send prisoners to the Pinellas County Jail until all the problems at the jail are rectified; at least then the jail won’t be so over-crowded. And the Pinellas Sheriff will have some incentive for the jail to reach for a civilized standard in treating prisoners.
The day after Thanksgiving your Clearwater Criminal Defense Lawyer received a call about prison conditions at the Coleman Federal Correctional Institution in Florida. The call came from a lady who believed her son was singled out for cruel and unusual punishment at the jail.
Here’s the gist of her questions to me:
|Van Gogh, Prisoners, 1890
A few months ago another inmate threw a knife into my son’s cell. Since then my son has been punished for the knife by placement in the hole (solitary confinement), with only one phone call to me per month and many other losses of what little freedom he had….
My son did not co-operate in telling who threw the knife because he legitimately fears reprisals from inmates. Yet after all this time he has not been charged with any offenses from the knife incident. What can I do to get better conditions for my son?
The prison system of America holds a higher portion of the population than any prison system in the world. The over-crowded conditions in many American jails such as the Pinellas County Jail in Tampa Bay, Florida should be improved. For the most part the Bureau of Prisons has been held by Federal Judges to a much higher standard of care than most American state and local prisons.
Clearly all jails are allowed to punish and segregate prisoners who violate the law or violate prison rules by being found in possession or close proximity of weapons, drugs or other contraband. Even for rules violations long term solitary confinement should be deemed cruel and unusual punishment, yet our Government confines up to 80,000 prisoners in solitary confinement.
So what can be done for your son?
First, without being accusatory, simply contact the jail in writing with a factual statement of the circumstances your son is facing including the length of time spent in solitary confinement with details of any other deprivations. This puts the prison on notice that someone outside the system is alert, watchful and that your son is not forgotten.
Then you should contact the psychologists, doctors and clergy (or faith-based community organization members) who are daily allowed into the jail making direct contact with inmates with the facts of the conditions your son is facing and request that they meet with your son as soon as they can.
Your objective is to have as many eyewitnesses as possible to view his conditions, note his circumstances and if necessary to complain about his conditions. Once you have their statements in writing you can go to the Bureau of Prisons with a complaint or if the Bureau of Prisons fails to take action to file a Federal Habeas Corpus Petition to get him better conditions or free him.
Especially during this Holiday Season let him know he’s not forgotten and that you’re doing your best to help him. And with help from Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorneys we’ll be doing our best to help other prisoners survive the most difficult time of their lives.
Up to 20,000 prisoners are held for long periods of time in solitary confinement each year in fifty-seven American supermax prisons and by one count up to 80,000 prisoners are held in solitary confinement at any given time in the American prison system, which for a Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney is a stunning number.
Tampa Bay Florida does not have any supermax prisons but we do have plenty of prisoners in the Pinellas County Jail and in Hillsborough County Jails who are subjected to solitary confinement for violations of arbitrary prison requirments, rules and regulations within our local prisons with little judicial oversight. For example, I represented a client whose meager yet unmet vegan food requirements led to ever greater minor jailhouse harassment, then to minor punishments and finally penalties that included time spent in solitary confinement even as my client lost weight at an alarming rate.
Terrible Jail conditions have been shown to create higher future crime rates even at our local prisons in Tampa Bay as worse the brutal conditions are in jails the more likely it is that prisoners will not reform once released.
Keeping all this in mind are our local prisons violating the 8th amendment standards for cruel and unusual punishment by subjecting prisoners to solitary confinement for minor transgressions of fluctuating prison rules? A recent Law Journal article notes that there have been many psychological studies showing what to a normal person would seem obvious, that solitary confinement is extremely harmful to prisoners:
Numerous psychological studies of prolonged solitary confinement detail the serious psychological harm to prisoners of such isolation. As one recent comprehensive survey of the psychiatric research on solitary confinement concludes, “Solitary confinement can have serious psychological, psychiatric, and sometime physiological effects on many prison inmates. A long list of possible symptoms from insomnia and confusion to hallucinations and outright insanity…“
|Maclise, Charles Dickens, 1839
The article goes on to note that this isn’t new science, we’ve known it for well over a hundred years as when Charles Dickens visited the Cherry Hill prison in 1842 and noted: “I believe that very few men are capable of estimating the immense amount of torture and agony which this dreadful punishment, prolonged for years, inflicts upon the sufferers . . . there is a depth of terrible endurance in it which none but the sufferers themselves can fathom, and which no man has a right to inflict upon his fellow-creature. I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain, to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body.“
Your favorite Clearwater Criminal Defense Lawyer believes it’s time to brand solitary confinement once and for all as what it clearly is – cruel and unusual punishment which violates the very qualities that makes us American.