Florida’s Prison System Agrees to Upgrade Care of Mentally Ill
by David M. Reutter
In 2015, Disability Rights of Florida obtained a settlement that requires the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) to more humanely care for mentally ill prisoners at Dade Correctional Institution (DCI), the same prison where prisoner Darren Rainey was scalded to death.
DCI has the largest mental health facility within FDOC. The lawsuit was brought following a series of articles by the Miami Herald that reported abuse of mentally ill prisoners in the Transitional Care Unit (TCU), the prison’s psychiatric ward.
The 15-page agreement is restricted to conditions at DCI, but it is hoped the agreement will impact conditions at other prisons with psychiatric units. The advocacy group investigation found guards targeted the mentally ill for abuse, and prison medical staff failed to report the abuse.
“Mr. Rainey was not the only victim of the shower treatment,” said Peter Sleasman of the Florida Institutional Legal Services Project, which brought the lawsuit for Disability Rights of Florida. “What we learned is that, to some extent, those same abuses were affecting others in the unit.”
The May 2015 agreement requires Crisis Intervention Training for all of the prison’s staff; new hires will also receive the training. Specialized training will provide eight hours of instruction on the supervision and care of prisoners in the mental health inpatient units. A new position for an Assistant Warden “with specialized duties assigned for the management and oversight of all operations and services” in those units was created under the agreement. FDOC also created a Mental Health Ombudsman in its central office to provide leadership and supervision over mental health care statewide.
The installation of video and pilot audio program has been completed in DCI units. FDOC also agreed to authorize filling guard vacancies at DCI. Televisions were also purchased “for use in therapeutic activities and programming as well as for leisure-time activities.”
To assure its medical contractor, Wexford Health Services, fulfills its obligations at DCI, the agreement provides for regular audits of prisoner files. Both FDOC and Wexford agreed to engage consultants to assess the medical health services at DCI’s mental health units. The parties will negotiate a plan of compliance to be implemented between February and July 2016.
The agreement provides for administrative closure of the lawsuit, but leaves open litigation as an option if the assessment and implementation schedule is not met. It also provides for the award of attorney fees and costs. See: Disability Rights of Florida v. Jones, 1:14-cv-23323 (USDC S.D. Florida, 2015).
Additional source: Miami Herald