Video: ‘Beyond Punishment’ – Abuse and neglect in Florida women’s prison

A Miami Herald I-Team investigation into corruption, sexual abuse and medical neglect at the largest women’s prison in the nation, Lowell Correctional. Reporting by Julie K. Brown /

A Miami Herald I-Team investigation into corruption, sexual abuse and medical neglect at the largest women’s prison in the nation, Lowell Correctional. Reporting by Julie K. Brown /

A 51-year-old inmate at the nation’s largest women’s prison was gravely injured this week in what was described as a violent assault by staff, including a lieutenant.

According to sources close to Lowell Correctional Institution, the woman became involved in a confrontation with corrections officers as she sought to declare a psychological emergency. Under proper prison procedure, that would have led to a medical intervention. Instead, sources said, she was slammed to the ground, then dragged to a wheelchair, with her head bouncing along the ground, before ending up hospitalized in intensive care with what was described as a possible broken neck.

Lowell Correctional, consisting of a main unit and an annex, has been plagued by reports of rapes and other abuses by staff, substandard medical care and illnesses related to unsanitary conditions, including dirty water.

The Florida Department of Corrections, which runs Lowell, would say nothing about how the incident occurred, when, to whom and why — only that “the preliminary reports of this incident are concerning.”

“We’re committed to examining all the details regarding this situation and ensuring appropriate action is taken,” said a statement attributed to Mark Inch, appointed to run the state’s largest department by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is leading the investigation rather than the prison system’s internal police force, the inspector general’s office, likely an indication of the gravity of what occurred.

Like the Department of Corrections, FDLE would say little.

“FDLE is investigating a use of force at Lowell Correctional Institution,” said a statement from agency spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said Thursday. “Department of Corrections contacted us yesterday and requested the investigation. Our case is active and in the early stages.”

The officers were not immediately suspended, but rather “have been reassigned to posts that do not have contact with inmates, pending the outcome of this investigation” FDC said.

The department said there would be no additional information released until the incident could be investigated.

Because the department of corrections often keeps even life-threatening injuries secret — even from an inmate’s closest relatives — information gets to the outside via inmate phone calls and other unofficial communications. That information is then disseminated through message boards and word of mouth.

Amid reports of sexual extortion, other horrors, feds subpoena records

That’s especially true at Lowell, which has an active Facebook community where relatives and friends share support, encouragement and concerns.

The inmate who was attacked is serving a short sentence for aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and resisting an officer with violence. She is due to be released in February 2021.

The reports out of Lowell were sufficiently disturbing that Sen. Keith Perry, a Republican who chairs the upper chamber’s Criminal Justice Committee, was heading to the prison Friday to grill administrators about what had occurred.

Perry, whose district includes Lowell and who frequently hears from inmates and their families about problems at the compound, said he has been told there is no surveillance footage of the incident despite legislative bills advanced by his committee to putting additional money in the budget for surveillance cameras for the protection of both staff and inmates.

“I heard she had a pretty significant neck injury,” he said of the inmate.

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The U.S. Department of Justice told the state of Florida in 2018 that conditions at Lowell Correctional were under federal investigation.

In the Florida system, veteran staffers are aware of blind spots in the surveillance cameras and can take advantage of them to administer beatings.

A series of Miami Herald stories on Lowell in 2015, Beyond Punishment, described cruel conditions at Lowell, including rats, roaches inadequate healthcare and staffers who force inmates to exchange sex for access to basic necessities such as sanitary napkins and toilet paper.

Last year, the Justice Department sent a letter to then-Gov. Rick Scott stating that conditions at Lowell were under investigation.

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