Florida inmates with mental illnesses who were once confined around the clock to a cell block filled with feces, rotten food and insects and sometimes allegedly beaten, tortured and starved by staff should be treated more humanely under a lawsuit settlement reached this week between the Florida Department of Corrections and a statewide disability advocacy group, the Miami Herald reports. The agreement could have far-reaching impact. It requires the state to overhaul the way it treats inmates with mental disorders at Dade Correctional Institution, which has the largest mental health facility in the state prison system.
Disability Rights of Florida brought the action after stories last year in the Herald about guards at Dade Correctional who allegedly used scalding showers and other sadistic forms of discipline to punish and humiliate inmates in the prison's psychiatric ward, or Transitional Care Unit. The disability rights group found that the blistering-hot showers, coupled with other physical and mental abuse and a lack of adequate healthcare, were the norm at the institution in 2012, when inmate Darren Rainey collapsed and died in a shower that had been cranked up to 180 degrees. Witnesses said Rainey, who was serving time on a drug charge, was forced into the specially rigged stall by corrections officers, who taunted him as he screamed in panic for nearly two hours until he died. Other inmates complained that guards forced them to perform sex acts, had them fight each other for the staff's entertainment, terrorized them with threats and beatdowns and put laxatives and urine in their food.