Florida Prisons

No running water to drink but showers working at Lowell Correctional

The Florida Department of Corrections continued to do damage control Wednesday, following a three-day water outage at the state’s largest women’s prison.

Conditions were improving at Lowell Correctional Institution Wednesday: Women were allowed to shower after three days without water. Toilets were operational, but drinking water was still being supplied in coolers, officials said.

A storm on Saturday caused a water pump to break, and also affected the prison’s geo-thermal system, which provides cooling to some dorms. The pump was repaired Monday, but as a precaution, officials were conducting water testing for 72 hours to ensure that it’s safe to drink.

FDC continued to downplay the event Wednesday, saying that reports about unsanitary conditions at the prison were not accurate. However, guards, staff, and families of inmates continued to call and email the Miami Herald and state lawmakers complaining that the water problem exacerbated longstanding sanitary problems at the prison.

One staffer told the Herald that the conditions in the prison were “subhuman,’’ a characterization the agency refuted on Twitter.

“All areas are being cleaned and maintained in a manner consistent with the original conditions of the institution,’’ the agency said in a Tweet.

But inmate advocates say those “original” conditions were bad to begin with.

“So many other issues — condemned buildings due to asbestos, lack of [air conditioning] or fans in dorms,’’ wrote Kathy Jo Carlin, author of a blog, inmateslivesmatter, which focuses on women who have been incarcerated in Florida.

Several people who work at the prison said the stench was so bad in the dorms that officers and other staff members have not been able to work.

The water pump is just the latest in a long history of sanitary problems at the prison — documented in state and county health reports. Dorms are plagued with mold, standing water and even parasites in the water, staffers said.

“I don’t understand why the health department doesn’t get involved,” said one prison employee. “There’s been a constant problem here with sanitation. Toilets that don’t work — sometimes only one works for 160 inmates.”

The prison, located just outside of Ocala, in Marion County, has about 2,600 inmates spread out in three facilities: the main building, the annex and a work camp.

Michelle Glady, a spokeswoman for FDC, said the maintenance crews had been working around the clock to fix the pump. Like all state prisons in Florida, Lowell does not have air conditioning, but relies on a geo-thermal cooling system, which agency officials have admitted doesn’t work very well. Staff said that it doesn’t work at all in many of Lowell’s dorms.

A Miami Herald I-Team investigation into corruption, sexual abuse and medical neglect at the largest women's prison in the nation, Lowell Correctional. Reporting by Julie K. Brown / jbrown@miamiherald.com.