Nearly 350 Florida inmates died last year, breaking the annual record for prison deaths. While most of these deaths were the result of "natural causes," others raise serious concerns about prison safety standards. Now state and federal law enforcement agencies are actively investigating suspicious inmate deaths to understand why so many people died behind bars in 2014.
One woman in central Florida told reporters she believes her niece was murdered in prison, even though the official autopsy report stated that the niece died of natural causes.
Shortly before her death, the niece wrote to her aunt, describing a deadly threats made against her by a prison guard. In the letter, she stated that a guard threatened to beat her to death with his radio.
An additional autopsy, conducted by an independent party, revealed "hemorrhaging caused by blunt force trauma consistent with kicking or punches to the lower abdomen." The victim's family also said she had a scar over her eye and a visible dent in her right temple.
Tight Budgets Causing Staff Shortages
According to some prison employees, tight budgets, leading to understaffed facilities, are a serious problem in the Florida prison system.
In a recent hearing multiple guards stated that their working conditions are anything but safe. One officer said budgeting problems and bad communication between administration staff create a frustrating – even dangerous – work environment for prison employees.
He said, "It's to the point where…if I was to walk on a compound, I feel scared….I don't even k now where we have enough people on there to help."
Even still, state officials aren't ready to call the rising death rate a serious problem. Julie Jones, the Florida corrections secretary, believes that the raw data for prison deaths in Florida is misleading. "If you drill in, the actual stats don't portray it's a crisis," she said.
On the other hand, advocates of a prison overhaul continue to gather support.
Additionally, the Department of Justice is collecting information and may launch an investigation to determine whether prisoners were denied their constitutional rights while incarcerated.