A continuum of suspicious deaths has raised urgent questions about the safety of people housed in jails and prisons across the United States.
Guards -- the very persons responsible for monitoring incarcerated people and maintaining the safety of their environment -- have been accused of, and even fired for, killing the people they are supposed to protect.
We need to raise the standards for reporting on -- and accountability for -- interactions between guards and prisoners.
Click here to email your your state legislators and governor now!
In Florida alone, a record number of prisoners have died within the past year -- an estimated 356 people. Likewise, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice recorded an estimated 407 inmate deaths in the year 2016.
Although the vast majority of these deaths have been classified under “natural causes,” the evidence and families of these victims often tell otherwise.
For instance, in 2010, Randall Jordan-Aparo -- a man imprisoned for credit card fraud -- was found dead in his cell at Franklin Correctional Institution after threatening to sue the prison for denial of medical treatment. According to a 33-page federal civil rights lawsuit filed against the Florida Department of Corrections, Jordan-Aparo had been tortured, gassed and beaten by guards and was left “gasping for breath” in his cell. Despite significant evidence that suggests otherwise, the official cause of death was deemed to be “natural causes.” No charges were pressed and no one was held accountable for his death.
Similarly, in 2014, Latandra Ellington -- a 36-year-old woman serving time at Lowell Correctional Institution in Marion County, FL for tax fraud -- was found dead in her cell just a few days after writing a letter to her aunt stating that she felt that her life was in danger. She wrote that one of the prison guards was threatening to kill her. "He told me ... he was going to beat me to death and mess me like a dog," Ellington wrote. "He was all in my face. Then he grabbed his radio and said he was going to bust me in my head with it."
After receiving the letter, Algarene Jennings, Ellington's aunt, called the prison, and an official there promised to place Ellington under special protection. The next morning, however, Ellington was found dead in her cell.
In spite of a state autopsy attributing the manner of death to "natural causes," Ellington’s family refused to believe it and paid for an independent autopsy. Lawyers for the family say that the independent autopsy found "hemorrhaging caused by blunt force trauma consistent with kicking or punches to the lower abdomen." When Ellington’s aunt saw the body, she said there were other things that convinced her that her niece had been beaten. She says, "Her right temple had a dent in it, a big bruise. Across her eye was a scar. But this was a fresh scar, you know, it had a scab over it." After a 78-page investigative report conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Ellington’s death was still attributed to “natural causes.” No one has been held accountable for her death.
And the list goes on…
For other grim examples of guard-responsible prison deaths, click here.
The unchecked power that prison guards assert over the lives of those they are paid to protect is both disturbing and outrageous. Each day, people in prison are tortured and even murdered by guards with impunity. At minimum, each of the individuals responsible should be held accountable and charged with gross negligence or criminal misconduct. At maximum, involuntary manslaughter, and in some cases, outright murder.
In 2014, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement hired 66 investigators to look into the growing number of deaths in Florida prisons. The U.S. Justice Department also instructed U.S. attorneys in Florida to begin gathering records on prison deaths in the state. Since then, Florida has released annual reports of inmate mortality. Although this meager call for accountability has not slowed down deaths in Florida prisons, it has placed the Florida Department of Corrections under intense national scrutiny for provoking the mandate in the first place. With this in mind, we must encourage other state legislators to do the same.
Click here to email your state legislators and governor now!
Also see these related links:
Sign this petition to raise the minimum qualification requirements for prison guards nationwide.
Sign this petition to investigate the death of Darren Rainey at Dade Correctional Institution in Florida.
These stories document a pattern of inhumane treatment, abuse and unexplained inmate deaths in the state of Florida.
1) Record Number of Inmate Deaths has Florida on the Defensive
2) When Prison Guards Kill
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-- The RootsAction.org Team
P.S. RootsAction is an independent online force endorsed by Jim Hightower, Barbara Ehrenreich, Cornel West, Daniel Ellsberg, Glenn Greenwald, Naomi Klein, Bill Fletcher Jr., Laura Flanders, former U.S. Senator James Abourezk, Frances Fox Piven, Lila Garrett, Phil Donahue, Sonali Kolhatkar, and many others.