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Lawsuit Claims Florida Teen Raped, Beaten in Prison Initiation Ritual

Florida’s correctional facilities for youthful offenders are part of the state’s adult prison system, and Florida incarcerates more minors than any other state in the nation. Approximately 140 juveniles are housed in detention centers on any given day, and in July 2013 that included a 17-year-old identified only as “R.W.”

According to a lawsuit filed on January 17, 2016 by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and Florida Institutional Legal Services, a project of Florida Legal Services, Sumter Correctional Institution guard Bruce A. Kiser, Jr. stood by and watched while at least six youths beat and sexually assaulted R.W. in a bathroom in F Dorm as part of a prison initiation rite called a “test of heart.” R.W. was cut repeatedly with sharpened pieces of barbed wire, choked unconscious and raped with a broomstick on July 24, 2013. Kiser never reported the incident.

“R.W. suffered a nightmare at Sumter,” said SPLC attorney Miriam Haskell. “Unfortunately, his experience is not unique. A culture of brutality persists within the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC), and what R.W. endured is just another example of why children do not belong in the adult prison system.” See: R.W. v. Kiser, U.S.D.C. (M.D. Fla.), Case No. 5:16-cv-00045-WTH-PRL.

An investigation by the FDOC’s Office of the Inspector General “noted Kiser’s inaction” and recommended a review of the incident, according to the SPLC, but Kiser reportedly “was not disciplined for his role in the attack and continues to be employed as a prison guard.”

The FDOC had previously settled a similar lawsuit, agreeing to pay $700,000 to a youth who was permanently injured during a “test of heart” ritual at the Lancaster Correctional Institution. Another juvenile died in 2014 from injuries sustained in a comparable incident at a Florida prison for youthful offenders.

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Related legal case

R.W. v. Kiser