Wednesday, October 23, 2013


When the Pinellas County Sheriff recently hired a company to take over the medical needs of the Clearwater jail, he chose the same company that runs the medical staff of the Hillsborough County Jail. This might seem reasonable but for the fact that under that company's medical care an inmate suffering a stroke was misdiagnosed as drunk and died an excruciating death. One thing is certain, it's not about the quality of medical care to be provided, it's about saving money.

Clearly the health, safety and rehabilitation of inmates in the Florida prison system is not the first priority with local decision makers. In fact Tampa Bay jails have a notorious reputation for not providing and protecting for prisoners

Anyone arrested has the right to adequate care and even those convicted must be treated in such a way that the punishment is not cruel. The Pinellas Jail often houses federal prisoners. It's one way that the over-crowded jail makes money. Other ways include selling music, clothes, phone time and food to inmates at extreme markups. 

As a Tampa Bay federal defense attorney I've heard many complaints from federal clients about the terrible food at the jail, which often needs to be supplemented with food bought at extraordinary high prices in the prison canteen. The failure to provide proper food, soap, shampoo and even underwear to inmates unless they buy the items makes life in the jail more difficult not only for those unfortunate inmates who can't afford these 'luxuries' but for the prison guards who find themselves degraded when their livelihoods subject others to inhumane conditions. 

Yet it's one thing to be cheap, much worse to risk lives by providing improper medical care in Florida jails. Press reports note that the Tampa family of the man who died of the misdiagnosed stroke received a significant financial settlement of as much as $700,000. Wouldn't it have been far wiser, cheaper and more effective in the long term, not to mention more humane, to have simply spent that money toward making our prisons safe, clean and healthy?

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