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Florida Jail Policy Changes, but Housing Naked Suicidal Detainees Together Continues

The rape of a pretrial detainee and a subsequent lawsuit forced Florida’s Duval County Jail (DCJ) to change its policies in housing. Advocates, however, argue the new policy is still “incredibly ill-advised.”

Mark Baker, 35, was arrested for trespassing on March 3. 2010, when he refused to leave a pharmacy while drunk. At DCJ, he said he wanted to kill himself. Guards stripped him naked and placed him in a cell.

In accordance with the DCJ policy the cell was occupied by another suicidal prisoner who was also naked. That policy, says DCJ officials, is the best policy to prevent suicides. For Baker, it was an easy way to be raped.

 He was placed in the cell with Joseph L. Pye, who had over a dozen misdemeanor and felony convictions. Pye was labeled “violent/uncontrollable” and suicidal. He was also in jail for having sex with a minor with mental illness.

A police report states that Pye told Baker that if he wants to go home, he would have to obey. Pye then forced Baker to perform oral sex. The next morning, Pye threatened Baker and waited until the guards changed shifts. Then he pressed a mattress against the cell door, forced Baker to the floor, and raped him. The attack took three or four minutes.

A guard making a 15 minute check came upon the cell while Pye was committing the rape. Pye immediately got up and began washing and wiping his genitals. Five months later he pleaded guilty to rape.

Baker also said he didn’t call for help because he feared for his life. He also said he was gay. “I have a flamboyant personality and have the mannerisms,” Baker told a detective. “But that doesn’t give him the right to just take it all!” Eighteen months later, Baker died of alcohol poisoning; he had gained 180 pounds over that time.

His parents sued DCJ after his death. They reached a settlement that requires guards to separate violent, suicidal detainees from non-violent, suicidal detainees; implement policies that state sexual contact is prohibited; change policies to assure compliance with The Prison Rape Elimination Act; and install 122 cameras, including two on the suicide-watch dorm in DCJ.

The settlement, however, does not change the policy that requires naked, suicidal detainees to be housed in the same cell. “You don’t even need standards to say that is incredibly ill-advised,” said Brenda E. Smith, director of the Washington College of Law’s Project on Addressing Prison Rape. She believes that Baker’s rape could have been prevented. “It’s a terrible tragedy.”

Source: Florida Times Union

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