When the Pinellas County Sheriff recently hired a company to take over the medical needs of the Clearwater jail, he chose the same company that runs the medical staff of the Hillsborough County Jail. This might seem reasonable but for the fact that under that company’s medical care an inmate suffering a stroke was misdiagnosed as drunk and died an excruciating death. One thing is certain, it’s not about the quality of medical care to be provided, it’s about saving money.

Clearly the health, safety and rehabilitation of inmates in the Florida prison system is not the first priority with local decision makers. In fact Tampa Bay jails have a notorious reputation for not providing and protecting for prisoners

Anyone arrested has the right to adequate care and even those convicted must be treated in such a way that the punishment is not cruel. The Pinellas Jail often houses federal prisoners. It’s one way that the over-crowded jail makes money. Other ways include selling music, clothes, phone time and food to inmates at extreme markups. 

As a Tampa Bay federal defense attorney I’ve heard many complaints from federal clients about the terrible food at the jail, which often needs to be supplemented with food bought at extraordinary high prices in the prison canteen. The failure to provide proper food, soap, shampoo and even underwear to inmates unless they buy the items makes life in the jail more difficult not only for those unfortunate inmates who can’t afford these ‘luxuries’ but for the prison guards who find themselves degraded when their livelihoods subject others to inhumane conditions. 

Yet it’s one thing to be cheap, much worse to risk lives by providing improper medical care in Florida jails. Press reports note that the Tampa family of the man who died of the misdiagnosed stroke received a significant financial settlement of as much as $700,000. Wouldn’t it have been far wiser, cheaper and more effective in the long term, not to mention more humane, to have simply spent that money toward making our prisons safe, clean and healthy?


A notorious murderer conducts a brutal jailhouse toilet paper strangulation on another inmate with his goal being to avoid spending his life in jail for second degree murder charges by gaining access to death row. That’s smart. The killer was in jail for murdering his girlfriend by strangulation in the same method used in the jailhouse killing. And the man he murdered? The victim was merely serving time on a reduced charged of misdemeanor trespass.

Florida Jails are unsafe and overcrowded especially the jails in Tampa Bay like the Pinellas County Jail.
Pinellas Jail for a long night’s sleep

Why would any jail in America place a prisoner serving time for trespass with a known murderer? If a primary goal of the Pinellas County Jail is safety then those accused or convcited of violent crimes would always be segregated from those accused or convicted of nonviolent crimes. The answer is the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department which controls the jail just doesn’t give a damn about the inmates entrusted to the prison by local Judges.

As this Blog has noted the Pinellas County jail fails to protect and provide for the state and federal prisoners who are often housed there. The jail is not safe, the food is deplorable, the conditions are overcrowded. Based on these facts Florida Judges should be demanding that the conditions in Pinellas jail be corrected immediately.

Press reports note that even after the prisoner yelled out that he’d done another murder just like the one he was in for, it took seven minutes or so for officers to respond to the victim who might have been saved with faster action and that another man was severely injured recently during the process of transporting prisoners.

As Americans we have a right to expect that a primary priority of our prison system be safety. Yet Clearwater criminal defense attorneys in Florida know that ignoring prisoner rights is not unusual for the Tampa Bay criminal justice system; therefore one wonders how many more needless deaths will result due to the fundamental failure of Florida jails to provide for prisoner safety. 


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.

If the Old Guitarist from Picasso suffered a stroke in Tampa Bay, Florida would he die a slow, hard, ugly death on the blue floor of a Tampa Jail mistaken as a criminal just because the jail provides no screening and little medical treatment?
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. 

Get out of Jail free card from monopoly shows a prisoner being kicked out of jail - if only it were that easy to solve over-crowding problems at the PInellas Jail in Tampa Bay, Florida.
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.


Pinellas County, Florida just released a Criminal Justice System Study on an interesting question, why has its prison population soared even as its crime rate and its population has fallen. Because the Pinellas County Jail is overcrowded it faces significant risks and challenges as does your favorite Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney when he makes his way into the cold, gray prison you support with your tax dollars. 

In fact according to the report overcrowding poses “the most significant challenge to the successful operation of the Pinellas County jail. An overcrowded facility fundamentally undermines the ability of staff to insure the safety and security of inmates, staff, and the public. Overcrowding presents the single greatest jail liability risk to a county, raising the specter of law suits, consent decrees, and court oversight of county jail operations. In the past three decades overcrowding is the most common reason why jurisdictions throughout the United States have been sued over the conditions of their jail facilities.”

The report also notes that “over the last six years the per capita arrest rates in Pinellas County have fallen below state averages. Yet the jail incarceration rate is above average. This may in part be explained by a circuit court felony case filing rate that is far above average, increased felony case disposition times, and a jail that increasingly consists of pretrial felons.” See, serious crime rates down.
Yet the report notes that not all crime has fallen, much to the joy and happiness of at least one Criminal Defense Lawyer in Clearwater. Even though all crime has fallen, some arrests are up, see the crime viewer map. For example, arrests for drug crimes, crimes against property and assaults. 
The report notes that violent crimes in Pinellas County from 1990 to 2006, “overall, as a category, crime reports for these offenses have declined 24% since 1990. Specifically, crime reports have declined by 41% for robbery, 22% for aggravated assault, and 17% for murder. Forcible sex offenses, however, have increased 28% in the last 17 years….property crime reports have also shown a significant decline between 1990 and 2006, 31%. Crime reports for burglary have declined 45%, for larceny have declined 36%, and for vehicle theft have declined 32%. Here is a map showing crime rates in Pinellas, Florida.
Many of these crimes other than sex offenses are highly subjective as to how they can be charged, how many counts to charge and even if they should be charged as felonies or misdemeanors. In many places in Florida good officers might not even make an arrest for a minor incident making wise choices which benefit all of us.
Should someone smoking a joint or someone who breaks a window or someone who threatens another at a bar really be arrested and spend time in jail for these crimes? Pinellas officers should use discretion to determine whether to make an arrest. 
It’s interesting that the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department is under fire for inappropriately investigating drug cases. The answer seems to be that Pinellas Deputies and Officers under pressure from supervisors to make more arrests even as crime is falling.

Everyone is an Outlaw in Pinellas even Japan’s outlaw hero from a far away era.
Everyone is an outlaw in Pinellas county even Goemon an outlaw hero of Japan
Ishikawa Goemon played by kabuki
actor Arashi Hinasuke II
(painting by Toyokuni III,1863)