HEARD Founder, Talila “TL” Lewis, sent the following e-mail to wardens in the Florida Department of Corrections and to attonreys in the U.S. Department of Justice on May 23, 2014:
I am writing because my organization, Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf (HEARD), is still receiving reports of abuse of and retaliation against prisoners with disabilities within Florida Department of Corrections prisons. Below I have provided a synopsis of ongoing issues at several prisons in Florida, including reports of rampant gang violence and physical and sexual abuse of deaf, disabled and elderly prisoners. The list of prisons in violation of federal disability rights law is not exhaustive; nor are the lists of abuses within each prison. I also attached our previous report of abuse of prisoners with disabilities within the Florida Department of Corrections, released in January 2013. The abuse listed below occurred within just four months.
Individuals included on this email are wardens from each prison listed, the Florida Department of Corrections Inspector General, Florida Department of Corrections ADA Coordinator, Department of Justice attorneys and an attorney from the Florida Protection & Advocacy agency. We also have contacted news media and are in constant contact with civil rights attorneys in Florida. We have entered our fourth year of advocacy on behalf of these prisoners and I assure you that HEARD will continue to publicize information about these abuses and work with civil rights attorneys and the Department of Justice until the Florida Department of Corrections brings an end to the same.
Thank you in advance for your time, attention and action.
Talila A. Lewis
STATEWIDE DOC CONCERNS
- Interpreters, telecommunications, auxiliary aids are not provided at most Florida DOC prisons housing deaf, hard of hearing or deaf-blind prisoners
- Deaf and hard of hearing prisoners have no access to telecommunication at most FL DOC prisons
- Deaf prisoners across the FL DOC can not use the TTY to call the toll free STOP RAPE hotline or the Inspector General’s toll free number
- The Prison Rape Elimination Act has not been implemented in prisons across the state for deaf, blind, deaf-blind or disabled prisoners (and rape of prisoners within these populations continue to occur at prisons across Florida)
- Tomoka C.I. shipped nearly 100 wheelchair users out last year after deciding that Tomoka was not wheelchair compatible. These prisoners, are now housed throughout the FL DOC–many in prisons that the DOC website says are not “wheelchair compatible.”
- Deaf prisoners applying for work release programs have received different versions of the following response when they grieve their respective classification officer’s refusal to allow them to participate in work release programs:
“Per the state classification officer, you cannot be transferred to a work release center as there are none with that can accommodate your disability. Therefore your grievance is denied.”
- Deaf prisoners are being raped and assaulted
- Deaf prisoners can not use telecommunications to contact the STOP RAPE hotline or the IG’s anonymous tip line
- The warden and staff are aware of the abuse but have not acted to end the abuse or ensure that deaf prisoners can contact anyone who can support them
- Deaf prisoners are denied interpreters for medical, programs, services, activities (e.g., deaf prisoner denied requested interpreters for medical appointments. The nurse told the deaf prisoner-patient to “hear and lip read.” When that was not successful the nurse asked another deaf prisoner to interpret the appointment.)
- Staff refuses to provide hearing aids, batteries for hearing aids, etc.
- Officers/captains make fun of deaf prisoners
- Deaf prisoners do not have equal access to announcements (intercom system)
- Staff prevents deaf prisoners from making calls and phone charges for deaf inmates have increased exponentially (they already were excessive)
- Deaf prisoners not allowed to work because they are deaf
- TTY is not working
- New ADA Coordinator in Tallahassee, Mr. Larry Purintun, took over Martie Taylor’s job–prisoners believes Mr. Purintun has no knowledge of the abuses going on with the disabled & asks HEARD to inform Mr. Purintun of the abuse
- Gangs are not being controlled by DOC
- Administration continues to put able-bodied gang members in J2 dorm. These gang members continue to abuse and exploit prisoners with disabilities
- There have been 6 stabbings recently; 2 in B Dorm, 2 in K dorm and 2 at work camp., two are critical. (Caused by gang members) “You won’t hear about these stabbings and if the two inmates die, I would assume the Warden may not be informed either. Violence is way out of control.”
- Deaf prisoners being moved into B and K dorms (instead of staying in J2-the dorm that is designated for people with disabilities).
- Deaf prisoners believe staff and administration are trying to get the deaf killed as a result of filing grievances, complaints, lawsuits about abuse and retaliation
- Retaliation against disabled inmates by gang members (theft/abuse)
- Fight in J2 dorm between guards & gang members–blind inmate unable to avoid the fight and was pepper sprayed by guards. Deaf inmates try to rescue blind prisoner during the scuffle.
- Deaf prisoner was beaten and has bruised/possibly cracked ribs. Prisoner is afraid to seek medical help due to frequent use of “administrative isolation” after deaf and disabled prisoners report physical and sexual assault
- Administration “approves” grievances but does not take action on the grievances which worsens abuse by staff and prisoners who receive no punishment
- “Violence all around us, especially bad for deaf as they cannot concentrate on bettering themselves; must keep a look out to not get hurt and try to figure out what hearing people are saying.”
- “Rapes, physical abuse, and theft occurring frequently.”
- “Fully-able inmates and guards physically abusing and extorting inmates with disabilities (not just deaf/ hard of hearing)”
- Locker search in early morning resulted in violence against deaf inmates by gang members (with knives and locks in socks). Weapons reported by deaf inmates but guards only found and confiscated one (ignored Plexiglas knife). Gang members from other dorms able to enter and assist with violence and escape “unnoticed” by guard.
- New Assistant Warden has not improved J2 dorm conditions.
- Classification officer, Ms. J. Mead, is in charge of impaired inmates but housing Sgt. Myers does the placement of the inmates. They do not talk so he puts who he wants in J2, non- impaired inmates dumped into dorm from solitary confinement, without Ms. Mead knowing. Ms. Mead should be in charge of J2 dorm so she can make sure only impaired inmates go in that dorm.
- TCI assistant wardens are not relaying any information to Warden Royal to keep him in the dark. When [Prisoner Name Redacted] was able to talk to the Warden, he was asked why he was not in J2 dorm, so [Prisoner Name Redacted] explained about his stolen hearing aids, etc., of which the Warden had no knowledge but [Prisoner Name Redacted] was not able to finish as security kept interfering with their conversation and pulled [Prisoner Name Redacted].
- On May 7, 2014, a DeafBlind prisoner who refused to give thugs money was jumped and beaten by these prisoners. Security locked one of the inmates up but staff “did not see it” so will be released back into J2 dorm. Also locked [Deaf Prisoner] up in Y dorm and confined to a cell for “protection” – a punishment worse than staying in J2 dorm.
- E Dorm does not have any accommodations for the deaf prisoners housed there, but prisoners are not complaining because J2 is so bad to live in. The big problem in E dorm is gang members who have cell phones and have the 800 number to find out inmate trust account balances. Then they find out who has money and they approach prisoners in “threatening packs” to extort them.
- Deaf prisoners are in dorms without access to telephones and closed captioning. They are scared to complain because they are scared of being sent to J2 dorm.
- Deaf prisoners’ hearing aids have been stolen, and the thefts grieved about, but staff has not responded to these grievances. Additionally, DOC sent hearing aids “out to be fixed” more than a year ago, but never returned the devices to deaf prisoners. These prisoners cannot hear call out for chow, recreation, chapel, etc.
- 89 year old deaf non-verbal, wheelchair using prisoner was held in solitary for four months after reporting physical and sexual abuse by four gang members. He was transferred out of Tomoka a couple of months ago, but was abused by staff at Tomoka prior to being transferred out. There were numerous instances of abuse, including being thrown face-first from his wheelchair while in handcuffs, being forced to lay on cold steel in solitary confinement; and on February 13, 2014, during an intense freeze, this prisoner was wheeled out into the cold with no jacket or blanket. As he sat shivering in the cold, waiting for the bus, an officer poured ice water down the back of his neck onto his bare skin.
- ADA grievances frequently receive no response
- Gang-related stabbings occur frequently
- Staff and prisoners physically and sexually abuse deaf, deafblind, blind, elderly, and chronically ill prisoners
- When ADA “inspectors” come around prisoners are “threatened and intimidated with going to the ‘hole’ and being beaten and/or maced, if they attempt to ‘talk’ to the ‘ADA people,’ and complain.” The ADA personnel do not “privately confer with certain inmates to learn what the real and true problems are.”
- Hearing aids not supplied to prisoners even where DOC “ear specialists” have determined that hearing aids are necessary for deaf and deafblind prisoners
- DOC has stated that even if it does provide a person hearing aids, it will only pay for one hearing aid, regardless of if the “ear specialist” deems that two aids are required
- Staff will not allow blind or vision impaired persons “to learn braille, get jobs, pursue educational opportunities, job skills opportunities, recreational activities,” so they sit on or by their beds, in overcrowded dorm filled with “general population (of all ages, crimes and sentences)”
- Wheelchair users are unable to maneuver in certain places on the compound due to the fissures in sidewalks leading to the dining hall and other facilities
- The “recreation yard that has a dirt walking/running track, so all that’s available to wheelchair-bound inmates is to just ‘sit’ outside, while non-medically-challenged inmates have access to games and other recreational activities. . . . This despite the fact that Gulf Correctional Intuition Annex is calling itself a ‘medical compound’ for ‘ADA inmates’ especially those who are ‘wheelchair’ bound.”
- Prisoners are charged $5.00 plus a “handling fee” every time they go to medical (even if medical does nothing for the prisoner), but prisoners can only discuss one medical issue per visit. This is a prison for people with medical ailments, so how is that acceptable?
- Guards in rain gear with umbrellas make sport of ensuring prisoners get drenched going to and from chow halls and other locations (prisoners recently turned in jackets until next winter)
- One prisoner who had had a major heart attack did not receive an “inmate impaired aid” to push him to different locations at the prison as required for many wheelchair users in the DOC. After some time, he decided to try to get himself to the canteen to purchase toiletries. He made it to the end of the building and had a heart attack. It took a nurse more than twenty minutes to get to him whilst guards laughed and joked that “another one bit the dust.” Guards did not let another prisoner render assistance to the wheelchair using prisoner. The man died.
- “If the Gulf Annex is to be considered a ‘medical facility (which is a joke considering its overall condition and the large majority of gang-related inmates housed here) then why isn’t at least one of the dormitories or one of the T-Buldings set up for just ADA medically challenged inmates, and/or those 60 years old or older to provide at least one safe haven, open bay dorm for ‘ADA medically challenged inmates’ and/or especially those over 60 years of age so they won’t be continually abused, harassed and intimidated by the much younger gang-related inmates? ”
- DOC refuses 89 year old non verbal deaf wheelchair using prisoner a Tinnitus masker and any method of communication. The prisoner has DOC records dating back to the 1980s documenting his disabilities and prescribing a “Tinnitus Masker” as a reasonable accommodation.
- This prisoner previously had a white board and dry erase marker attached to his wheelchair to communicate but staff at Tomoka destroyed this board in retaliation for reporting abuse and discrimination. DOC has not provided a replacement so this prisoner can communicate effectively.
- Elderly deaf wheelchair user was transferred to Santa Rosa and is not receiving accommodations. According to DOC’s website, the prison is not “hearing impaired” compatible.
- The prisoner who is now at Santa Rosa (above), was housed here after Tomoka shipped him out with the other wheelchair using prisoners. According to DOC’s website, Mayo is not “wheelchair compatible” or “hearing impaired compatible.” This prisoner who has had a clear record for decades in the FL DOC grieved conditions and ADA violations and disciplinary reports immediately followed, including an allegation that he created and hid a weapon. The prisoner said that this weapon was planted by a guard in retaliation for reporting violations. Medical then “lost” this prisoner’s records and he was not provided an interpreter for the disciplinary hearing regarding the weapon found ( Prisoner reports that medical “deliberately” lost medical his files to ensure that he did not have an interpreter for this disciplinary hearing).
- No access to TTYs or interpreters
- Living space was not accessible living
- Showering facilities not accessible
- The prisoner was unable to get hearing tests/aids or any other auxiliary aids
- The prisoner had no telecommunication access
- Medical condition of prisoner ignored despite ongoing pain. This prisoner’s wheelchair is old and falling apart but he has not received a new chair despite numerous requests.
- ADA coordinator threatened elderly and mentally challenged prisoner
- Corrections officer abused prisoner and prisoner was placed in solitary confinement as punishment for speaking out
- Deaf prisoners denied access to TTY
- Deaf prisoners denied closed caption access
- “No accommodations for deaf inmate, not able to communicate with attorneys.”
- Deaf prisoner not being provided hearing aids or interpreters and has not received accommodations at this prison for several years
- Unequal access for deaf & disabled inmates to basic facilities (toilet, medical services, recreation, television, etc.)
CENTRAL FLORIDA RECEPTION CENTER
- Facility not deaf/hard of hearing compatible. “Inmates denied access to TTYs, videophones, and all communication.”