In a disturbing report released by the Department of Justice on Tuesday are details of the repeated rape and abuse of inmates by corrections officers at Florida’s Lowell Correctional Facility, the largest female prison in the United States.
Past records show that the prison has been under federal investigation since 2018, when lawyers from the Justice Department civil rights division launched an investigation into the prison’s poor medical and sanitary conditions. However, during meetings with inmates and their families, the lawyers discovered that physical conditions were the least of their worries. They had found that the prison cultivated an environment where sexual abuse and assault happened so frequently it was normalized!
The 36 page report by the DOJ describes multiple incidents where inmates were reportedly sodomized, raped, abused, bribed with contraband and coerced into sexual acts in exchange for basic necessities such as toilet paper and soap. According to The Miami Herald the investigation also uncovered that staff would threaten inmates with solitary confinement or missed visitations if they reported the incidents happening at the prison. This is a violation of the 8th amendment right ,cruel and unusual punishment.
Julie Abbate, the DOJ’s former deputy chief of special investigations in the civil rights unit stated “It’s shocking to see this kind of sexual abuse at every level of the prison, from trainees to lieutenants. It’s just been acceptable at that facility.” Activist Debra Bennett added, “We are so used to Lowell getting away with everything. It’s got to stop now! I hope this is a big hammer on top of that prison, our punishment was to be removed from society for our crimes — not to be raped or groped or pushed and beaten, crippled and killed.”
The DOJ alleges that the Florida Department of Corrections is condoning this behavior by transferring repeat offenders to different facilities (sometimes on the same compound), ignoring and losing evidence, dismissing credible complaints from staff and inmates and by keeping investigations indefinitely open.
“A Lowell sergeant, who was arrested in February 2017 on charges of having sexual intercourse with a prisoner had been the subject of numerous allegations for years, some of which had been closed [by FDC investigators] as unfounded despite being inadequately investigated,” says the DOJ. “By under-exploring or ignoring potential available evidence…or abruptly closing a case without completing the investigative process, [FDC] fails to provide accountability…and corrective action to prevent future sexual abuse.”
DOJ investigators built a 100,000 page case file on the litany of crimes at Lowell corrections that includes inmate/staff statements, photos, the accused and victims. The female prisoners told the Justice Department investigators that they are attacked in bathrooms, closets, laundry areas, in officers’ stations and even outside. There were times where officers would come into their sleeping quarters in the middle of the night and force themselves upon them and if they refused there were consequences.
The U.S. Attorney’s office for Florida’s Middle District stated the Florida Department of Corrections have known about these incidents as early as 2006 and have failed to comply and keep inmates safe.
“The prison system’s history of corruption and abuse — and its inability to adequately supervise corrections officers and staff at Lowell — has forced the Justice Department to intervene to protect inmates’ constitutional rights”, stated the DOJ.
“Abbate says it’s imperative that FDC institute independent monitoring at Lowell, because the unlawful behavior is so ingrained that the sexual abuse of female inmates won’t end until there is new oversight at the prison.”
Though the 36 page report released by the Justice Department did not include charges against any of the staff for the crimes or allegations against the rape and abuse of the inmates, but it did include 14 measures that could be implemented to remedy the issue.
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