08 February 2015

A Death a Day

by Leigh Lundin

Imagine a prison system in which a person a day diesone man every day of the year. This unsurprisingly takes place in a land with the highest incarceration rate in the world.

This isn’t North Korea or Iran.

Florida DoC
Hearses waiting at Florida DoC © WFSU
We’re talking Florida, a state that incarcerates 75% more per capita than the next highest competitor… Cuba.

We’re talking Florida’s lucrative privatized prison system in a land that competes in executions with Texas and a couple of other states, but this isn’t about capital punishment…

We’re talking about ordinary prisoners who hoped one day to get out but died at the hands of other prisoners or … commonly… prison guards. Indeed, a Santa Rosa Correctional Institute inmate complained in letters to his family and in legal filings he’d been sexually assaulted by guards and his life had been threatened if he talked. He talked. He died. And so have others.

FDLE Gerald Bailey
Gerald Bailey © Bill Cotterell
State Archives of Florida
Inmates have written their families that if they’re found dead, it wouldn’t be by suicide but homicide by guards, guards who obscure their name tags to evade identification, who inmates could only identify as, for example, Sgt. Q. Many prisoners have complained about being sexually assaulted and ‘gassed’ into compliance with a noxious chemical agent. State inspectors have investigated and found for the prisoners. Florida's death statistics are so far off that the US Department of Justice is now investigating.

In September, more than thirty guards were fired for sexual assault, physical abuse, starving, poisoning, gassing, or beating inmates to death and in one case, killing a prisoner who'd soiled himself by steaming him alive. The Governor’s office and the Attorney General dismissed the allegations. Not one guard has been arrested or indicted.

Maybe you’re one of those people who thinks prisoners deserve all they get. They deserve rancid, moldy, vermin-infested food. They deserve rape. They deserve beatings. And damn it, if they get killed in prison, they deserve that too. Or perhaps you simply believe in the right of a company to protect the bottom line and not the general population.

Because Florida

I staunchly support free enterprise, but there’s a problem here. Traditional prisons were subject to oversight by its citizens. Not now. A corporation owes responsibility only to its stock holders… and perhaps the political cronies who landed them the contract.

Beatings, rapes, and killings are taking place in your name and mine. Not everyone approves. Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey thought that was a problem.

Florida Governor Rick Scott
Fl. Gov. Rick Scott © Miami New Times
Governor Rick Scott disagreed. Because Florida, because America. Because of a governor who committed the largest Medicare/Medicaid fraud in the country, who’s never seen the inside of a prison although he deserved to.

Remember that name, Commissioner Gerald Bailey, the head of Florida’s law enforcement. Because Rick Scott brought the private sector corruption he was infamous for into the public realm.

Good Cop, Bad SOP

Under Bailey, the FDLE was investigating those suspicious prison inmate deaths, assisted the search for juvenile remains at the former Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, and was looking into the destruction of emails following Scott’s transition into office in 2010. The Governor was not pleased.

“The most shocking thing was being ordered to target another individual without any justification. I don't know why this woman was in the cross hairs.”
FDLE's Gerald Bailey
The governor’s office, in an attempt to deflect criticism of the prison system under the governor’s control, instructed Bailey to frame an Orange County Clerk of Court, stating she was the target of criminal investigation who allowed inmates to use forged papers from her office. Bailey refused, saying she wasn’t a suspect at all: the forged papers came out of the prison complex. A governor’s press aide asked Bailey if he was refusing a direct order, to which Bailey replied in the affirmative. The Governor was not pleased.

The Governor’s office expressed concerns that State Representative Alan Williams of Tallahassee was fomenting student sit-ins at the state capitol and asked Bailey’s office to keep them posted about Williams’ activities in incidents reports. Williams complained he was politically targeted and singled out by name, and that the governor’s office was trying to shape the protests as being organized not by students but by his political opposition.

After the FDLE discovered a Los Angeles criminal investigation of a Scott campaign donor and Miami businessman suspected of money laundering, a man the governor wanted to groom for a political appointment, Rick Scott personally asked Bailey to help bring the investigation to a close. Bailey refused to get involved. The Governor was not pleased.

Bailey received solicitations to contribute to the governor’s campaign through the state’s email system. Bailey informed the governor’s legal counsel this was inappropriate, in fact, illegal. The governor’s office said “Then ignore it. Delete it.” Bailey pointed out to the governor’s lawyer that’s illegal too: You can’t lawfully delete official communications from state computers. The Governor was not pleased.

Florida Governor Rick Scott
Florida Gov. Scott © ABC News
In his first weeks in office, Governor Scott worked with the new legislature to pass a bill legalizing illegal campaign donations. At the time called a “Whore of Babylon” by a St. Petersburg Times reporter, they okayed payoffs, directing them into a political slush fund, a corrupt practice that had been banned two decades earlier.

The governor ordered Bailey to a summer conference for Scott’s election campaign. Bailey refused, saying it was inappropriate for a law officer to engage in partisan politics. The Governor was not pleased.

The governor continued to treat the FDLE as his own private security force. His campaign instructed the Department of Law Enforcement to provide transportation for campaign workers. Bailey’s office refused, saying their sole responsibility was the safety of the governor and first lady, not campaign staffers. Bailey also refused a $90 000 check from Scott’s campaign, saying it wasn’t appropriate for law enforcement to accept funds from a political party. The Governor was not pleased.

Governor Fires Chief Cop For Not Breaking The Law

Florida Governor Rick Scott
Florida Gov. Rick Scott © Politico
Scott calls the above incidents ‘petty’. So petty he fired the FDLE head, Gerald Bailey.

What hasn’t been mentioned here is that the FDLE reports not only to the governor, but also three cabinet members. Governor Jeb Bush and the three cabinet members unanimously voted Gerald Bailey into the post nineteen years ago and presumably only the cabinet can fire him. None of the cabinet apparently took part in Bailey’s termination as required by Florida law. Rick Scott merely says they didn’t object.

I’ll give the last word to former FDLE commissioner Jim York. He said the firing could create a lasting perception that politics has compromised the independence of the agency amid investigations of corruption.
“If it’s perceived that the agency is under the thumb of any politician, particularly this governor, it’s going to be devastating to the morale of the agents. They wouldn’t be interested in doing investigations where they felt that the governor was looking over their shoulder, looking out for his donor friends.”
Thus we have further corruption in the Governor’s office and prisoners dying at the rate of one a day.

What is your take?

18 comments:

Julia said...

Wow. Deserves wider distribution . . . I've never like anything about Florida anyway, now I know I'll never go back!!!

Leigh Lundin said...

Not to mention the summer heat and humidity, Julia!

Usually when I write about Florida, I use a more humorous, ironic touch about Florida madness, but sometimes you just got to say what you got to say.

Louis A. Willis said...

Why isn't Scott an inmate in one of Florida's prisons? Your article certainly indicates there is plenty of evidence that he engaged in illegal activities.

C.S.Poulsen said...

Tallahassee and Washington need to read this article, Leigh. Eye opening is an understatement. How did our country become so corrupt and downright evil? Why isn't there more investigative reporting like this? How does one bypass Scott's watch dogs and make this article viral? Thank you for your courage and integrity.Apparently,in government, those qualities have been snuffed out.

Melodie Campbell said...

Wow. Yet another thing I didn't know about the U.S. - how the prison system is allowed to operate. Some of the shows on television - which seem so far fetched to me - may actually make sense.

Eve Fisher said...

Corruption is almost impossible to stop. Almost - it can be done - but it takes long, hard, grinding work on top of courage and risk on the part of those who are trying to stop it. And there's way too much of it.

The prison system gets a pass almost everywhere because - they're criminals! They're scum! They deserve it! Until, of course, it's someone you know and then you discover how corrupt it all is. From the telephone calls ($3.00 a minute, minimum, prepaid on a credit card, thank you, to a private corporation that has nothing to do with the jail, cough it up right now), to the food (give them the minimum calories required by law a day, all starch and meat products, nothing fresh, and when they get sick - diabetes is rampant in prisons - start whittling their fingers and toes off rather than a better diet and proper meds because the money for the prison meals is going somewhere else), to the relatively high death rate in almost every state (and it's always suicide).

Good article, Leigh. Sorry it has to be said.

Leigh Lundin said...

Louis, from the fraud Scott engineered, he should be in jail. Scott has a way of not answering questions– one of the links has an example of Scott blithely slipping past pointed questions about the sacking of Bailey. During the HCA fraud hearings, Scott refused to answer something like 75 questions.

When I asked a friend why she voted for Scott the first time, she said he'd reached out to evangelicals and "asked forgiveness." To me, if someone wants forgiveness, they should change their behavior.

Claire, it's kind of a willing blindness. Most people don't want to know what goes on. As long as they can play video games and watch their favorite TV shows, go shopping and update facebook, they're happy and willing to look the other way. Besides, the prisoners probably deserve it, don't they? If we're a great country, we need to grapple with unpleasant issues, but admitting problems exist seems impossible for some.

Leigh Lundin said...

Melodie, I don’t want to be an inverse Chamber of Commerce of the Southeast Territories (or 11th province), but from what I gather, the terror shown in movies and television might seriously understate the problems or at least show an older view when there was some oversight. Part of the issue with Commissioner Bailey is the the governor is responsible for prison oversight, a responsibility he’s abdicated, allowing the three prison corporations operate as they wish.

Eve, you’re my heroine. You actually get into prisons, you see the problems, and you try to mentally cope with it all. It must be frustrating dealing with an unseeing, uncaring public.

One of the problems here in Florida is that suicide, forced or otherwise, might not be the major cause of death among prisoners– it may well be murder. For example, the man who was steamed to death (scalded brutally with water 20-30°F (11-16°C) below boiling), was listed as a heart attack. His skin had actually peeled off and stuck to the floor. The death of the prisoner who reported guards’ sexual abuse and death threats and was poisoned was apparently listed as ‘gastro’. And the children who died at the boy’s farm weren’t listed at all.

Anonymous said...

So a short prison term in Florida could be a death sentence?

I have to think that the sadistic could be drawn to a career as a "correctional officer".

Leigh Lundin said...

Anon, I’ve thought prison work might attract some sadists, those who might look at beatings and abuse as a perq. But to be fair, I’ve known two people, both women, who are caring individuals who worked in the prison system. One was a jailer for whom it was a less-than-ideal a job, but she was a kind person. The other had advanced degrees, one in psychiatry and I think the other major was social work. She was exceptionally compassionate and emotionally involved in her work, which she knew was a mistake, but she couldn’t help it. So while a career in corrections might attract sadists, it also attracts the compassionate and others who simply need work.

One of the articles I read while preparing this report mentioned a prison saying: “Come for vacation, leave on probation.”

A Broad Abroad said...

This is frightening in the extreme. The helplessness and injustice, with no cause for redress, must be enough to make many worse than before their incarceration.

Prisons conditions under our previous government were unspeakable, and, sadly, are not much better now, though reporting on the problems is more transparent and no longer a crime.

Leigh Lundin said...

ABA, the good thing is that your country is trying. Somehow the US has become a police state when we weren't paying attention.

By the way, thanks to Sharon for input for this article.

Anonymous said...

You mention men. Have women died in the prison system? How many?

Jan Grape said...

Florida like Texas has such bad people in government that it's sickening. Yet people keep voting because 1.Money talks loud. 2. Telling right-wing evangelicals, I'm sorry please forgive me. 3. A large group of voters who never know what's going on except what they or someone they know listens to and believes FOX NEWS. But the major thing we have to fight is the money...the DARK MONEY that's buying elections, Yes, this is just my opinion, but I have to say it.

Leigh Lundin said...

Absolutely, Anon. The numbers appear to reveal
• 335 men
•  11 women
I don’t have figures about children— nobody does.

The Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida, the largest juvenile reform institution in the United States, must have been nightmarish, a facility closed by Governor Charlie Crist after investigations by Gerald Bailey and federal authorities. Children with offenses as minor as trespassing and truancy were raped, tortured and killed by guards. Bodies were buried in deliberately unmarked and unrecorded graves. Florida state attorneys over the years declined to file charges.

Using ground penetrating radar, 50-some unmarked graves were found in one ad hoc burial spot, but the state Corrections Board blocked UCF forensic specials from searching for other cemeteries, later overturned by a judge. One or more burial grounds and at least 100 more bodies have yet to be located.

Jan, I agree. Money is so powerful in the votes that can be bought. Money and casual ignorance allows corruption to flourish.

Eve Fisher said...

Why is it that a politician or "religious" leader can just say, "Forgive me!" and not change a @#$%@ thing and people buy into it? And vote for them? I have no idea.

The prison system is seriously screwed up, and I think the two main reasons are fear and money. Fear - of criminals, of crime, of the "other", of being there yourself and Money - we can make a fortune off these guys! Slave labor (.25 cents an hour, folks), cut costs everywhere... No, I'll just go off into another rant.

Leigh Lundin said...

But you're right, Eve. You're right.

And politicians have a fear that if they do the right thing, the electorate will turn against them.

Leigh Lundin said...

One of the problems with corporate prisons is the opaque nature of their operations, shielded from the public and not of the least interest to lawmakers other than potential profits. Two years ago, I wrote about a prisoner virtually boiled alive by prison guards. Two days ago, state investigators decided no one should be punished. I leave you to read the article and judge the quality of the investigation, with just this one pulled quote:

“… medical workers at the prison have told the (Miami) Herald that they were pressured to keep quiet by both their employer, a private contractor, and by corrections officers who threatened to leave them unprotected when dealing with unstable inmates.”