Florida Women’s Prison Under Scrutiny After Rape by Guard
by David M. Reutter
Anquanette Woodall’s third child was born in 2016 – during her third year of a 15-year sentence for burglary and robbery – after she was raped by Florida prison guard Travis Hinson in an area at the Gadsden Correctional Facility not covered by security cameras.
Located in the eastern panhandle near the state capital in Tallahassee, the medium-security prison, which houses 1,544 women, is privately operated by Management & Training Corp. (MTC), a Utah-based contractor.
Hinson was a 27-year-old former employee of the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) before he began working for MTC. After the rape, he tried to extort Woodall’s silence by saying he knew the address of her mother, who is the caretaker for her other two minor children. Hinson subsequently pleaded guilty to sexual battery and is expected to be released from prison in 2022 – four years earlier than Woodall.
Meanwhile, Woodall said she was subjected to personal attacks after it was confirmed that she was carrying Hinson’s child. The doctor who performed her pregnancy test said rumors were circulating that Woodall had “been going around and sleeping with a lot of officers and being a slut.”
“There’s a price that comes with speaking up for yourself,” acknowledged Woodall, who was subsequently moved from Gadsden to the Lowell Correctional Institution in Ocala.
Florida has the nation’s second-largest female prison population. PLN has previously reported on abuses at Gadsden and Lowell, including an August 2019 beating by Lowell guards that left 51-year-old prisoner Cheryl Weimar a quadriplegic. [See: PLN, Dec. 2019, p.42].
Woodall described routine harassment from Gadsden guards who berated her. She documented each incident with a formal complaint, but the FDOC found no merit to any of her claims.
“I know one girl, she tried to report a PREA [a violation under the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act], and she kept on trying to insist that this is what was happening,” said Woodall. “She got sent back to the dorm with a DR,” or disciplinary report.
Of 28,000 incidents of staff-on-prisoner sexual abuse in state and federal prisons tallied by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics between 2012 and 2015, nearly 85 percent were dismissed as unsubstantiated. Another 10 percent remained under investigation. Only five percent were substantiated.
Had Woodall decided to abort Hinson’s child, the FDOC would not pay for the procedure even though the pregnancy resulted from a rape committed by a prison guard.
“The rules were, that if I decided to have an abortion, it wouldn’t come out of the state’s pocket. It would come out of my mom’s pocket instead,” Woodall said.
“These people are treated poorly,” observed former Florida state Rep. David Richardson, referring to conditions at Gadsden, “and it all ties back to saving money.”
While in office, Richardson toured Gadsden several times and concluded prisoners there faced significant problems. Additionally, he alleged that officials at the facility had retaliated against prisoners “for discussing matters” with him.
During a March 10, 2017 visit with FDOC investigators, Richardson said they found “25 allegations of potential wrongdoing.” During two more surprise visits, he found cells with no hot water and temperatures hovering between 55 and 64 degrees at 12:30 p.m. One prisoner had a tooth extracted without sedation. [See: PLN, Jan. 2018, p.52]. Another prisoner – Woodall – contracted pneumonia. Recalled Richardson from one of his tours at Gadsden, “I had one teacher say under her breath say to me, ‘Please fix this place.’”
Before leaving the legislature in 2018, Richardson had been on a one-man mission to improve conditions in Florida’s prison system. What he witnessed at Gadsden caused him to push for reforms.
“I don’t need to wait for an investigation to start jumping up and down,” he said. “I have enough evidence, and I’m convinced there is enough health and safety concerns that this must be treated as a priority.”
Since Woodall was raped at Gadsden, MTC’s director of communications, Issa Arnita, said 60 cameras are being added at the facility, which has reported three prisoner deaths in two years. Nora Hall died on August 8, 2017 of natural causes, in a case now closed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). Caroll Hill died on March 7, 2019, also of natural causes. And Phyllis Carlton died on June 20, 2019 of causes yet to be determined.
Sources: miamiherald.com, tallahassee.com, tampabay.com
As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.
Already a subscriber? Login