Groups seek Justice probe of solitary confinement in Florida prisons

A coalition of civil rights organizations, faith leaders and advocates for the mentally ill asked the Department of Justice on Friday to investigate claims that Florida prisons overuse solitary confinement.

The groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International, released a seven-page letter to Vanita Gupta, deputy assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division.

It said, in part: “While we strongly support needed measures to ensure that those who work in our state’s prisons are safe, and understand that solitary confinement is sometimes necessary in that effort, we strongly believe that such confinement is overused throughout our nation and our state.”

It cited several cases of prisoners who died after being held in solitary confinement, among them Darren Rainey, a mentally ill inmate thrown into a steaming shower at Dade Correctional Institution whose death was ruled accidental.

The groups estimated that 12.5 percent of state prisoners — 12,436 people — are in such confinement.

The ACLU’s Florida director, Howard Simon, said that means one in eight Florida inmates “are being held in solitary confinement, where we know people are being beaten, gassed, sexually assaulted, and even scalded to death. If the state cannot take responsibility for past abuses and put a stop to what is happening in its prisons, then the federal government must take action.”

Read the full letter here: