With 320 inmate deaths as of Dec. 8, Florida's prison system is on track to have the deadliest year in its history, says the Miami Herald. This rise in prison deaths coincides with an aging of the prison population, but also with a doubling of incidents involving the use of force by officers over the past five years. Six months after the Herald began an investigation into the questionable deaths of inmates, the U.S. Department of Justice is gathering evidence for a possible investigation into whether the agency has violated the constitutional rights of prisoners. The Justice Department has sent letters to Florida's three U.S. attorneys informing them of the inquiry.
State legislators are scrutinizing the prison system after an outcry by human rights groups and prison reform activists. Gov. Rick Scott last week named a new secretary, Julie Jones, to head the department, which is the third-largest prison system in the nation, with 101,000 inmates and a $2.1 billion budget. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement now has asked the legislature for an additional $8.4 million to probe prison deaths and cases involving excessive force by Florida law enforcement officers. “If nothing else, the corrections officers and the people running the institutions have been put on notice that someone else is watching them and they are no longer policing themselves,” said David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor.