Miami Herald investigative reporter Julie K. Brown’s ongoing series of stories on suspicious deaths and questionable use of force in the Florida prison system has won the top honor in the print category in this year’s National Headliner Awards.
Brown’s coverage, titled “Cruel and Unusual,” took first place in Local Beat Coverage category and was also named “Best in Show” by the sponsoring Press Club of Atlantic City
Brown’s reporting on the Florida Department of Corrections began with an article describing how inmate Darren Rainey died after being locked by guards in a scalding, makeshift shower at Dade Correctional Institution. Rainey, a 50-year-old inmate in the prison’s mental health unit, angered corrections officers when he defecated in his cell and refused to clean up the mess.
Brown’s stories also examined the case of 27-year-old Randall Jordan-Aparo, who died after he was repeatedly sprayed with chemicals by prison staffers while Jordan-Aparo pleaded for medical treatment at Franklin Correctional Institution, and that of 42-year-old Bernadette Gregory, a wheelchair-using inmate who, the DOC says, managed to tie a double knot and hang herself in her cell despite being handcuffed.
In the wake of these articles and others, the Department of Corrections hired ombudsmen to work with inmates suffering from mental illnesses, discharged dozens of corrections officers and ordered a comprehensive study of use of force by staff. The warden of Dade Correctional has been replaced, as has his top assistant.
The secretary of the department, Florida’s largest, bowed out late last year and the Florida House and Senate have advanced dueling bills that would increase oversight of the prison system.
The National Headliner Awards have been presented in recognition of journalistic excellence since 1934.