Sunday, April 21, 2013

CRUEL & UNUSUAL: WHY A FLORIDA JAIL FAILS TO PROTECT & PROVIDE FOR STATE & FEDERAL PRISONERS

Your Clearwater criminal defense lawyer is often asked about the shameful treatment of prisoners in the Florida prison system. In Tampa Bay, Florida the worst prison I've come across is at the Pinellas County Jail. 
Federal prisoners are routinely sent there because the jail needs the federal money per prisoner to defray the cost of housing its own prisoners. 

Get out of Jail free card from monopoly shows a prisoner being kicked out of jail - if only it were that easy to solve over-crowding problems at the PInellas Jail in Tampa Bay, Florida.
Over-crowding Jail solved.
Despite the fact that every Deputy I've met who works at the Pinellas County Jail has been dedicated, professional and helpful; it's clear that the new Sheriff has failed in his primary responsibility to make the necessary changes so that prisoners are safe, have decent food and live in conditions that are not over-crowded.

First, the Pinellas jail is not safe. Many years as a prosecutor I handled a rape case where a young man who was being treated as an adult and was therefor at Pinellas County Jail awaiting his drug trial was raped and sodomized by a gang of thugs at the jail. 
The perpetrators were found guilty of sexual battery at trial, but the young man's life was unnecessarily ruined. The evidence I submitted to the jury was indisputable that Florida prisoners, especially the young or vulnerable, who find themselves incarcerated in Florida are not well protected from other prisoners.

Yet the Pinellas Jail is a dangerous place in other ways as well. It's always a good idea to be careful while taking a stroll there always being mindful of where you are. One of my friends, an attorney, sued the Pinellas Jail when a heavy metal door cut off part of her finger. 
But the loss of a finger is nothing compared to the prisoners who have died while waiting for proper medical care as has been reported in the press. Recently a federal Drug Enforcement Agent (DEA) told me that the only way he could ensure the safety of one of my federal clients from being harmed by other prisoners at teh Pinellas County Jail was to send my client to solitary confinement, thus severely punishing the very person they aim to protect. 
Besides failing to provide a safe environment. The Pinellas County Jail fails in providing decent food to inmates. Every federal defendant I've represented who has spent time at the Pinellas County Jail has asked if there's anything I can do about the horrible food. And yes, I've tried, but even upon showing a medical or religious food requirement the jail fails in a primary function of providing edible food. Why? The jail makes a tidy profit by forcing inmates to buy large quantities of additional food from vendors. 
And it's not just food that provides money thru vendors. A federal female inmate facing methamphetamine charges was ashamed to tell me that the jail would not provide her with clean underwear as it expected her to buy them. Further, she told me that she was only given up one hour a day in the fresh air. And like every other federal inmate housed there while waiting for trial or sentencing she told me the food is so poor that she can hardly eat it.
All of these issues take on even greater risk because of the fact that the jail is over-crowded. It's odd that the jail is over-crowded when you consider that the crime rate is down in Pinellas County according to the Sheriff's office, yet incarceration levels soar.
A large part of the problem of over-crowding in Florida jails is that Florida law makers are not doing enough to ensure that prisoners receive education, training and proper correction so that they have alternatives other than further crime upon achieving freedom as noted in the Miami Herald. But when there isn't enough money being spent to protect, feed and clothe prisoners of course there won't be enough to help them in other ways.
Apparently Circuit Judges in the state of Florida do not believe that the substandard care at the Pinellas County Jail equates to cruel and unusual punishment. However, the jail does not meet the higher standards and requirements of the Federal system. What action can be taken to remedy the lack of safety, the poor food, the reliance on vendors and over-crowding at the Pinellas Jail?
Your Tampa Bay Criminal Defense Attorney strongly urges Federal District Judges to direct the Federal Marshall's office to refuse to send prisoners to the Pinellas County Jail until all the problems at the jail are rectified; at least then the jail won't be so over-crowded. And the Pinellas Sheriff will have some incentive for the jail to reach for a civilized standard in treating prisoners.
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