Monday, December 28, 2020

Officials knew about sexual abuse at Lowell prison —and did nothing. System must have independent oversight | Opinion


Miami Herald
Greg Newburn
Mon, December 28, 2020, 2:41 PM EST

A horrifying new report by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) reveals that, for more than a decade, Florida’s political leaders and the state Department of Corrections (FDC) have ignored the sexual abuse by staff, including rape, of incarcerated women at the Lowell Correctional Institution.

The report is shocking, but not surprising to anyone who’s paid attention to Florida’s prison system. Its findings should, at a minimum, finally prompt the Legislature to establish independent oversight of Florida’s prisons.

According to DOJ, Florida Corrections was made aware of systemic sexual abuse of Lowell prisoners by staff as early as 2006, but failed to take action to remedy the problem. In fact, the report notes the Department created a safe harbor for some of the worst offenders.

One sergeant at Lowell was accused in 2017 of sexually abusing a prisoner, “causing lesions on the prisoner’s throat from oral sex, and then retaliating against the prisoner when she refused his sexual advances.” FDC confirmed the prisoner’s injuries, but failed to complete the investigation into the allegation. That sergeant remained employed until his arrest earlier this year — for sexual misconduct with a different woman.


DOJ found it is common for employees at Lowell to bribe women with contraband in exchange for sex, compel women into abusive sexual “relationships” and watch women shower and use the toilet. Then they threaten the women with solitary confinement if they report the abuse.

Last year, after an employee at Lowell beat a woman until she was paralyzed from the neck down, FAMM and Florida Cares invited women who had been incarcerated at Lowell, and families of women currently incarcerated, to share their stories.


Actually, anyone who wanted to know what was happening at Lowell could easily have learned this information. They just needed to listen to the women incarcerated there and their families, who have been begging anyone and everyone for 15 years to put an end to the horror at Lowell.

Since FDC was made aware that women in its care were being raped, four people have served as Florida’s governor and seven have served as FDC secretary. Each knew, or should have known, this was happening. None of them did anything to stop it.


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