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New Florida Trend: Abuse in a Spray Can

Frank Valdes may have accomplished in death what he could not in life: a decrease in prisoner beatings by guards. The problem of abusive guards, nonetheless, has not disappeared after Valdes's murder. The form of the abuse has progressed to frequent gassings. "Before Valdes, we were getting all kinds of complaints about cell extractions _ people being forcibly yanked from their cells and beat up in the process. We don't have those complaints, anymore. Instead, we get complaint after complaint about gas," said Peter Siegel, a Miami lawyer who specializes in prison litigation.

After Valdes's murder, Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Michael Moore responded with some policy changes. Those changes were broadcast into the prisons via videotape that informed prisoners of the necessity for their compliance with orders, obeying rules, and that guards act in good faith. Any use of force used by guards must be videotaped by the guards, and some prisoners have permanent cameras in their confinement areas.

The new rules have still resulted in a 35 percent increase in the allegations of staff misconduct over the three-year period that ended September 30, 2001, reaching 5,198 in the last fiscal year. The use of chemical agents is up too, from 1,455 times in 2000, compared to 1,758 in 2001. Florida guards have learned to not leave physical evidence on the prisoners they wanted to abuse. Now, they just gas them into submission.

Source: St. Petersburg Times.

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