In all Florida prisons, no cable television is provided. Also, most prisons have dorms for the prisoners (which are open rooms with multiple beds) versus cells. In most dorm rooms, one television can be found. Correctional officers control what the inmates watch as well as the volume they watch it at. Also, the majority of state-run prisons are not air conditioned. All seven private prisons in Florida, on the other hand, are air conditioned. Due to Florida law, all inmates have access to libraries, religious services (such as access to a priest), medical and dental care.
In most Florida prisons, all inmates have the opportunity to work in order to potentially receive money and/or lower their prison sentence. Jobs include laundry, cooking and prison maintenance. Florida prisons utilize the Department of Transportation, Department of Forestry, and many other organizations to provide work for inmates. In the fiscal year of 2013-2014, approximately 5.4 million hours of work was completed by Florida prisoners, providing Florida with a savings of almost $45 million. Inmate labor is also used for working on gardens (to supplement the inmates’ food supply) and constructing new correctional facilities.
There is also a work program called PRIDE (Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises) which employs inmates to create various products and provide certain services. For example, PRIDE participants produce license plates, apparel, furniture, and dental work items (such as bridges, crowns, dentures, etc.). Additionally, PRIDE inmates also work in agriculture by harvesting crops such as sugarcane and oranges. In 2014, PRIDE paid participating inmates between $.20 and $.55 per hour. In that same year, PRIDE reports that inmates worked a total of over 3.9 million hours producing goods and services for state, city, county, non-profit organizations, and private sector customers.
Abuse and violence are major problems within Florida’s prison system. Additionally, abuse is exponentially worse for mentally ill, disabled, and LGBTQ prisoners. In 2014, there was a national record of 346 inmate deaths in Florida prisons. Over half of these deaths had no immediate cause of death listed and 15 deaths were homicides (three of which involved guards). Some of these deaths can also be attributed to inadequate healthcare.
Overall, abuse and violence can be attributed to many different factors. One major factor is that the majority of the guards are overworked, underpaid, barely-trained, and learn a mentality of violence as the only way to interact with inmates. In addition to the guards, the threat of gang violence is very high, especially for inmates who would speak out about poor conditions. For an example of poor conditions, at the Colombia Correctional Institution, inmates experienced non-working toilets, no hot water, broken heating, and “head-splitting” noises from an exhaust fan. These issues went on until an inspector finally made a surprise visit to the prison.
Inmates of any gender also face the struggle of rape and sexual assault while incarcerated. For example, many youthful offenders face “test of heart” rapes where they are virtually impaled with broomsticks. These rapes are used to extort money out of newer, younger inmates that refuse to pay money to stop physical abuse they experience. The rapes can result in a bloody, painful death and often leave the victims with irreparable damage to their bodies.
According to the Florida Department of Corrections, in 2016, there were 136,956 people in one of 56 state prisons (seven of those prisons are private). Of those 136,956, 34,705 of them were women. The year 2016 was another year of decline that began in 2009. And while men and women are given similar opportunities while in prison, the conditions they face vary greatly.
As of April 11, 2016, the State of Florida faces a lawsuit over allegations that women in the Lowell Correctional Institution were subjected to sexual, mental and physical abuse.
According to Crystal Harper, a previous inmate of this institution, said she was subject to whatever the staff at the prison wanted for five years. During her first day, an employee of Lowell grabbed her butt and said to her, “this is going to be mine.” This was the beginning of her five-year nightmare within the prison. She recalled more graphic requests such as being told via notepad to “get naked,” “get doggy style,” etc., by a guard on duty.
Another instance involves former inmate Tanya Yelvington. She recalls asking the prison to examine her breasts for cancer. This request was not met until 16 months later, which at that point, was too late. Yelvington had to undergo surgery to get the cancerous pieces of her breasts removed. According to her, the surgeons “butchered it.” Instead of removing parts of her breasts that could once again harbor cancerous cells, they removed very little and left Yelvington with “a chance for the cancer to come back it,” according to Yelvington.
While Lowell Correctional Institution stands as the worst example of a female prison, cases such as the two described above can be found throughout female prisons found in Florida.