TAMPA BAY PRISONS STILL FAIL TO PROVIDE ADEQUATE MEDICAL CARE, SAFETY, FOOD & CLOTHES FOR INMATES

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?

SERIOUS STROKE VICTIM MISTAKEN AS DRUNK IS KILLED BY POLICE & A FAILING FLORIDA PRISON SYSTEM

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.