Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Suicides Plague Florida Women's Prison

Florence Krell, a 40-year-old mother of two serving an 18-month sentence for grand theft after she failed to return her boyfriend's rental car, hanged herself from her cell door at the Jefferson Corr. Institution on October 11, 1998. She had been at Jefferson, an all-female prison located about 30 miles east of Tallahassee, for less than a month; she was labeled a trouble-maker by prison authorities and placed in solitary confinement.

Krell had written letters to her mother and to a state judge describing mistreatment by guards. Following a Sept. 17 incident in which she wrote she had "lost it," Krell was pepper sprayed, stripped naked and confined in a cell without a mattress, bedding or running water. Four guards later arrived to remove "contraband" from her cell -- a plastic cup and a roll of toilet paper. She was left lying on the concrete floor, bruised and handcuffed, after she refused to stand up, nude, in front of male guards.

Prison records indicate that Krell repeatedly complained of abuse. She filed complaints with the inspector general's office, which were returned to prison officials for investigation. Her letters describing mistreatment were confiscated by prison employees the day before she hanged herself.

It was later reported that a senior psychologist at Jefferson, David A. Schriemer, had a mail-order doctorate from a non-accredited school. He twice had been demoted by state corrections officials because he lacked professional credentials; however, the Public Employees Relations Commission ruled that he should be "grandfathered" into his position. Schriemer was Krell's case manager at Jefferson

Florida ACLU executive director Howard Simon called for an independent inquiry into Krell's death. "I just don't think you can trust the system to investigate itself," he said. Two months after Krell killed herself the Dept. of Corrections had not released the results of its investigation.

On December, 3, 1998, another prisoner at Jefferson committed suicide Christine Elmore, 25, was found hanging from the door of her solitary confinement cell just eight days after arriving at the prison. Her death was not announced by prison authorities, who refused to provide Elmore's family with information concerning the circumstances of her suicide.

Corrections Secretary Harry K. Singletary, Jr. rejected an offer by the Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to help investigate the deaths, saying he believed his staff was doing "a very good job" The ACLU sent a formal request to Gov. Lawton Chiles for an investigation by the FDLE and also asked the governor to appoint an independent panel to study conditions at women's prisons. "We believe that these tragic incidents reflect broader problems related to the conditions of confinement for female prisoners in Florida that require the investigation by independent agencies," stated ACLU director Howard Simon.

Prompted by the pair of deaths at Jefferson the Florida House Committee on Corrections met in January to discuss the problem of suicides at women's prisons. Before the Committee hearing was held, state corrections officials confirmed another suicide attempt at Jefferson: Arneca Hicks, 26, tried to hang herself in a segregation cell on Dec. 17. Health Services Administration Director John Burke acknowledged that authorities at Jefferson also were investigating suspected overdoses by two other female prisoners.

Although prison officials say they do not maintain records regarding attempted suicides, information from the department's inspector general's office indicates there have been at least nine suicide attempts at Jefferson since July 1997. According to Corrections Secretary Harry Singletary most of the suicide attempts occurred in segregation units, where harsh conditions and oppressive treatment by guards may be contributing factors. New governor Jeb Bush has ordered a new investigation into the suicides.

The Tampa Tribune

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login