State Rep. Dianne Hart talks about conditions at Lowell Correctional Institution

State Representative Dianne Hart discusses the conditions and inmate treatment she found after spending Sunday at Lowell Correctional Institution.

State Representative Dianne Hart discusses the conditions and inmate treatment she found after spending Sunday at Lowell Correctional Institution.

In a video posted on Facebook, State Rep. Dianne Hart excoriated excessive heat, excessively short eating times, inadequate female hygiene materials and inmate treatment after spending Sunday at Lowell Correctional Institution, days after an inmate was brutally manhandled, leaving her gravely hurt.

Hart’s been at Lowell several times before, but this is the first time since Wednesday’s incident involving alleged use of excessive force by a corrections officers against Cheryl Weimar. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating what inmates described to Hart as an attack on the 5-10, 118-pound 51-year-old from Hollywood.

“We came here today because I wanted to talk to some of the inmates about the young lady that was slammed here at the work camp,” Hart said on the video. “I understand, yes, her neck may very well be broken. I have not been able to get that verified by the FDLE, but I can tell you what the inmates told me:

“Four people, four men were dragging her around like a rag doll. They threw her down. Somebody hit her neck with their elbow. That’s what the inmates say. I cannot prove it. So, I have no proof of that. I can only tell you what many of the people who say they were there when some of this occurred…

“I cannot verify it for you until FDLE tells me exactly what happened — and I understand that’ll happen when it’s all done, when the investigation is over.

“But, come on officers, stop with the physical abuse.”

The Department of Corrections did not respond to a request for comment.

In a Monday phone conversation with the Miami Herald, Hart said she didn’t see Weimar because “I was told she was not there, that she was at an outside hospital.”


Cheryl A. Weimar

Florida Department of Corrections

Other elements of Lowell life that left Hart feeling “a little dismayed and disappointed” were:

Poor medical care — Hart told the Herald she saw the foot of a woman with three amputated toes who hadn’t received proper medical treatment. Hart said she hasn’t heard anyone in any of the state’s 29 facilities have anything good to say about the prison system’s medical care.

Heat — Hart described “walking around in cells, pouring in sweat” and fans that didn’t work in certain areas. And she was particularly peeved at an officer who, she was told, would turn off the fans in an area as punishment. “It’s already 99,000 degrees in there and you turn off fans? Come on.”

Soap rationing — Hart described the soap that’s supposed to last inmates for a week as “like the little small bar you get out of a hotel” that would last three or four showers. She said an assistant warden claimed he didn’t know of this practice and told staff to give women the soap as needed.

Female hygiene — One of the sponsors of the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act that was signed into law in June noted “Yes, we now have tampons, however, we don’t have real pads. We have panty liners. Those women who know what it’s like to have a menstrual cycle that is extremely heavy, you know that having panty liners does not work.”

Time to eat — Hart said that instead of the 10 to 20 minutes of meal time as mandated by Department of Corrections Secretary Mark Inch, inmates were getting three to five minutes. Monday, Hart said the inmates were so insistent on telling her about their five-minute mealtimes, they did so while looking at guards with defiance.

“I hope they don’t do anything to those people when I leave here,” Hart said.

Hart said she also told the inmates, “Don’t abuse the guards. Give what you get. Give what you want. If you give and spew hatred, that’s what you’ll get back. Be kind, be respectful. I know there are many good guards.”

She also challenged fellow legislators on both sides of the aisle to visit prisons near them to see the conditions. To those who say “it’s a prison, not a country club, you shouldn’t have done anything,” Hart said people convicted of crimes are human.

“But you would not want your family treated less than human. As a legislator, I don’t want to see anybody treated less than human. I don’t have family on the compound. But I’m here because I believe it’s important we continue this fight on prison reform.

“We cannot reform something we know nothing about.

“Are we not tired of being the laughingstock of the country in the way we treat our incarcerated people?”

Since 1989, David J. Neal’s domain at the Miami Herald has expanded to include writing about Panthers (NHL and FIU), Dolphins, old school animation, food safety, fraud, naughty lawyers, bad doctors and all manner of breaking news. He drinks coladas whole. He does not work Indianapolis 500 Race Day.

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