Disciplinary confinement in prison should be a “last resort,” and FL inmates must have basic rights

Following a series of inmate beatings and continued concerns about conditions at Florida’s state prisons, State Rep. Dianne Hart has filed legislation related to basic rights for inmates.

Those rights include proper ventilation in housing units and at least 20 minutes for inmates to eat a meal. In addition, a warden’s approval must be obtained before an inmate is placed in disciplinary confinement, and such confinement must be a “last resort.”

Hart, a Democrat from Tampa, has been following the longstanding problems of Florida’s Department of Corrections, and her former brother-in-law, an inmate, was allegedly assaulted by four corrections officers in July at the Central Florida Reception Center in Orlando.

The incident occurred after he complained about an officer cutting him while removing plastic handcuffs from his wrists. He was being taken for a dental visit.

A state correctional officer was recently arrested in connection with that incident.

In August, four corrections officers at Lowell Correctional Institution near Ocala allegedly beat Cheryl Weimar, a 51-year-old inmate who became paralyzed. The incident is under investigation and the four officers have not been identified.

Hart’s legislation, leading up to the 2020 legislative session in January, says that all inmates are to be treated with “decency, respect, and fairness.”

The bill also states that: “Staff must exercise alternative resolutions in lieu of disciplinary confinement if possible and in the prisoner’s best interests. Disciplinary confinement must be a last resort unless such confinement is for the safe operation of the institution to prevent any further violations of the rules of conduct.”

Another section of the bill relates to inmates eligible for “conditional medical release.”

Such an inmate is presumed to be permanently incapacitated if he or she has a chronic pulmonary disease; is 85 or older and has served a third of his or her sentence or is eligible for parole, among other factors.

Hart issued a statement saying: “It is clear that major changes in correctional methods are required. It is essential to reduce the use of large institutions and build upon our use of community-based corrections and provide alternatives to institutionalization. Additionally, I want to thank the Florida Justice League for working with me to ensure that inmates under our care have access to basic rights, and wardens are held accountable for their officers.”