Supporters rally for prison reform on anniversary of inmate's death
Four years to the day after the death of a mentally ill inmate who was herded into a brutally hot shower and locked inside, screaming for mercy until he collapsed and died, a small group of protesters gathered outside the office of the Miami-Dade state attorney to demand someone be held accountable.
The protesters waved signs, including one bearing the message, “Justice delayed, justice denied.”
The death of Darren Rainey on June 23, 2012, has come to symbolize the brutality of Florida’s prison system, the nation’s third largest.
He was placed for up to two hours in a specially rigged shower whose temperature was controlled from a neighboring closet. At various times, the shower was used to punish prisoners in the transitional care unit — housing the mentally ill — at Dade Correctional Institution.
None of the others died.
“We just want to make sure that people remember that a severely mentally ill man was killed by guards. Four years later, there are no charges, there is no autopsy and no police report,” said George Mallinckrodt, formerly a psychotherapist at Dade Correctional and now a prison reform activist.
He was joined by more than a dozen others, including Gemma Pena, whose son, Kristopher Rodriguez, is incarcerated and, she says, suffers from mental illness.
“This has to stop. The torture and abuse has to stop. We need answers for Darren Rainey. The state does not own my son. God owns my son,” Pena said.
The circumstances of Rainey’s death didn’t become public until two years after the fact, and not until an inmate at Dade Correctional, Harold Hempstead, got word to the Miami Herald through an intermediary. Hempstead also wrote to prison officials, the state attorney and the Miami-Dade medical examiner, although his complaints were ignored.
This has to stop. The torture and abuse has to stop. We need answers for Darren Rainey. The state does not own my son. God owns my son.
Gemma Pena, mother of inmate Kristopher Rodriguez
The Rainey story and others in the Herald detailing prison brutality have led to firings, executive orders, lawsuits, legislative hearings, new procedures for treating the mentally ill, and various pledges to overhaul Florida’s prison system — but so far no criminal charges in connection with Rainey’s death. Federal and state investigations remain open.
For two years, the office of Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle has refused to answer questions about the case. In the days before the anniversary, an email request from a Herald reporter seeking comment from state attorney spokesman Ed Griffith went unanswered.
Thursday, after this story was posted on the Herald’s website, he sent the following statement: “The Darren Rainey death investigation is ongoing. In investigations of this type, one can be quick or one can be thorough. For an honest review, we believe one should be thorough.”
Rainey was serving a two-year sentence for cocaine possession when he died. His autopsy has not been made public.
Dade Correctional Institution says it has implemented better training for staff, improved video monitoring to ensure that similar mistreatment doesn’t go unnoticed, and repaired the prison’s crumbling facilities.
But advocates say more needs to be done, not just at Dade but throughout the prison system.
This story has been updated with a statement issued by the state attorney’s office.