Florida’s prisons cost taxpayers $2.5 billion annually, employ tens of thousands of people, and are responsible for the lives of 90,000 incarcerated people, yet lack independent oversight, transparency, and accountability. Here are a few of the stories from people in prison and their families about what they go through every day dealing with the Florida Department of Corrections. Because incarcerated people and their family members fear retaliation and poor treatment by prison staff if they report problems, many are reluctant to speak out publicly or share their full names.
The legislature should commit to meaningfully improving the living conditions of Florida’s prisoners, especially those housed in state-run facilities who endure extreme heat in facilities without air conditioning. At a minimum, the legislature should mandate humane temperature standards in state-run prisons.
“My son wakes up in a pool of sweat, the heat is beyond inhumane! They are all drenched in sweat every minute of the day. He soaks his towel in water and lays it on his body while drinking as much of the warm to nearly hot water available to them. I’m writing letters and will continue to do so however those in charge of the prison are very well aware of the temperature in there. These are abusive and inhumane conditions!” – family member
“I was placed in a cell that filled up with 6 inches of water every single night when they did showers. If it rained that day you might as well grab your floaters because you’re not getting the water out. Me and my bunkie would have to splash through the water ankle deep to get to the toilet to use the bathroom, then splash back to our beds and dry our feet off with a towel so we wouldn’t get our beds wet. The room was crawling with black mold all up the walls and they even had to replace my mat because of the mold was growing under my mattress. Talk about pure hell.” – former prisoner
“I could go on and on about the living conditions we have to endure in there and having to work on DOT weeding ditches for 7-8 hours straight. We would go HOURS without being able to have simple drinking-water breaks, and then getting back to the compound after a long day to find out that the kitchen was short on food and having to have bologna sandwiches for dinner, the SAME hot, squished-up bologna we had for lunch that day.” – former prisoner
Florida’s prisons often lack quality medical, dental, and mental health care – and COVID-19 outbreaks in prisons have only made things worse.
“My brother is housed at Santa Rosa and is receiving and enduring beatings from staff and other inmates. My mother and I just received a letter from him stating his eyes are swollen, spitting up blood and he feels his ribs are broken. I emailed the warden and assistant warden about this brutality, and frankly, I am exhausted from the nonchalant attitudes my mom and I receive. My brother does not initiate confrontations with anyone. He is mentally challenged and I’m not understanding why he is still housed at Santa Rosa when he needs to be in a facility to receive the help he needs. I will be calling Tallahassee in the morning…again.” – family member
“It’s outrageous how they treat inmates that are considered suicidal. How does stripping them naked and lying on a cold hard floor help a suicidal person? I learned this the hard way with my loved one. I assumed when I called to report he was depressed and possibly suicidal they’d help him, get him counseling. Nope. Just punishment.” — family member
Prison systems need transparency to run well and prevent harm to staff and prisoners, and they need to be held accountable for mistakes. The legislature should require the Department of Corrections to gather and report relevant data on prisoner well-being, including prisoner health, use of force incidents, abuse complaints, average dorm temperatures, correctional officer to prisoner ratios, and causes of prisoner deaths.
“It’s so important to keep in contact with your loved ones. Even if they can’t call you, take the time to correspond with them through letters. Call the institution and check on them, let those officers and administrators know someone out there cares for them!! The ones who stay in contact with family and have regular visitation are less likely to be mistreated because they know someone out there is pulling for them. Not saying that always works but it does lessen the chances … Officers fight inmates in the bathrooms all the time, they will take guys in the laundry room where there is no cameras and take turns beating them. I’ve seen with my own eyes officers spit in food, refuse you bathroom breaks and steal jewelry, letters and other personal belongings from inmates. THESE ARE THE FACTS OF PRISON LIFE.” – former prisoner
“I believe wholeheartedly that the hidden world behind prison walls should be exposed! Really, really, very bad things happen there and those that perpetrate these CRIMES just continue to skip along. Because it is hidden. Because there is no transparency. Because during and after prison, people often keep those secrets from embarrassment and/or shame in hopes the nightmares will end, that they can just forget.” – former prisoner
Florida’s prisons often fail to meet basic standards of hygiene and nutrition – in fact, some incarcerated people go hungry.
“My son is in solitary confinement in Santa Rosa Annex. I just did a wellness check on him. I was told by an officer that he checked on him, but he didn’t come to the door. Then I asked him about commissary. Officer said because my son is Disciplinary he can’t get food except the little they give them. So basically they are starving people, just because that’s the rule. My son is 6.2 and 180 pounds. What kind of rules allow a person to be starved for months, I asked him. No answer to any of this. So much for the wellness check. I don’t care what anyone did – they should not be starved or be in solitary confinement.” – family member
“Chow is the same still only two to a table seated opposite of each other, same being rushed in and out extremely fast. Food the same, smaller portions and bad quality, looks like they again are implementing cheaper, not-for-human consumption products. I do not eat any of it if the meat portion of the meal is made with this material.” – prisoner in FL DOC
“My son needs food. The food trays have 7 slots — my son said many times only 3 or 4 would have food in it. And remember these are full grown men and women being fed, and a peanut butter sandwich and an apple isn’t enough for them. Not to mention the water they are supposed to drink has been the color of green tea for the last 8 days.” – family member
Do you agree that this crisis needs to be fixed? Ask lawmakers to create an independent oversight body to increase transparency and accountability in the state’s prison system.