Lowell Correctional Institution for Women, a women’s prison in Florida has become one of the most feared prisons in a justice system that itself is premised upon treating prisoners inhumanely.
There have been reports of inmates being forced to perform menial tasks and being coerced into sex with the male guards of the prison, which houses 2,700 inmates and is the largest corrective facility for women in Florida.
Debra Bennett, Rachel Kalfin and Tanya MacKenzie, left to right, who are all former inmates at Lowell Correctional Institution, stand together as they wear "I Survived Lowell" shirts during a community meeting led by the United States Department of Justi… https://t.co/aP6BGljnLd pic.twitter.com/Exn3xyp77o— StarBannerPhoto (@StarBannerPhoto) August 20, 2018
The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) has opened its first ever inquiry into the notorious prison to investigate whether there is a pattern of civil rights abuse in the prison.
On August 19, the DoJ held a community meeting in Ocala to discuss the massive abuse sanctioned by the prison authorities.
The meeting was attended by the families, friends, and partners of current inmates, as well as some former inmates. What emerged was a harrowing tale of abuse, coercion and assault that had not just gone unnoticed by the prison authorities but had been actively encouraged by them. Present in the meeting were Bernie Brewer and his wife, whose daughter was locked up after a fatal drunk driving incident, said that there are frequent cases of physical and verbal abuse directed at the inmates.
An inmate confirmed reports of sexual abuse by the Miami Herald that had documented the abuse prior to the investigation. A former inmate, Rachel Kalfin, said that after she reported sexual assault by a corrections officer, she was punished by being kept in solitary confinement for 165 days. The prison staff derided her as a “liar”, and also threw away the mail she had received from her family. Miami Herald had previously reported on inmates who were forced into sex with prison guards to avoid confinement.
Standing room only at meeting with the Dept of Justice about abuse of female inmates at Lowell Correctional Institution in Ocala Fla. pic.twitter.com/eQdnjCICZz— julie k. brown (@jkbjournalist) August 19, 2018
After the damning reports published by the Miami Herald, the prison has grown a lot more conscious about its image, but not of its ethics. In view of an impending visit by the DoJ, the prison staff directed inmates to mop floors, pressure wash the dormitories and tidy up the place to mislead the investigators. Inmates were given a new menu and their dirty beddings were replaced. The prison staff was also instructed to memorize the Florida Department of Corrections’ policies regarding sexual abuse.
However, the meeting was shadowed by a sense of fear among the participants. The attending families admitted that they were hesitant to come forward for fear their loved ones behind bars will face backlash for this. The DoJ reassured participants that no retaliation from prison staff will be tolerated.
The most alarming detail to emerge from the meeting was the ambiguity of the “investigation”. The DoJ officials present were adamant that the investigation will not lead to any punitive action against the staff, or any correctional measure. The most the DoJ could do was to issue a public report detailing the abuse, which would make it really easy for the staff to identify the victims, and work with the prison staff to address the supposed “deficiencies”.
Venting their grievances against the justice system in a communal setting may have been somewhat cathartic for the participants. However, the state’s reluctance at implementing any fundamental reform is baffling, especially when much of the abuse could previously go unnoticed due to some fundamental deficiencies, such as the lack of cameras in the facility.
It is this indifference on part of the state that, in the eyes of many inmates, makes it complicit in the process of the inmates’ dehumanization. Now, inmates are no longer appealing to a crumbling bureaucracy, but have decided to agitate to have their humanity recognized. This month, 2 million inmates went on a prison strike to protest the “modern day slavery”.
Thumbnail/Banner Credits: Getty Images