Thursday, January 18, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Florida prison reforms are a good start

The state Department of Corrections has serious problems with the way it treats inmates and needs systemwide reform. Corrections Secretary Mike Crews recently acknowledged the flaws and detailed sensible changes for the department, including expanding crisis training for prison guards and increasing transparency and accountability surrounding inmate deaths. That is a start, but Crews also needs to bring closure to the investigations of suspicious deaths of prisoners in which prison guards have been implicated.

The reforms come following the Miami Herald's report this spring of the deaths of several inmates who died after altercations with prison guards. In one of the most disturbing incidents, Darren Rainey, 50, collapsed and died in 2012 at the Dade Correctional Institution near Homestead after guards locked him in a scalding hot shower for two hours. After his death, inmates removed chunks of his skin from the shower. Rainey, who was mentally ill, was being punished for defecating in his cell and refusing to clean it up.

The Herald detailed other appalling cases, including the death of Randall Jordan-Aparo, 27, whom guards at the Franklin Correctional Institution had repeatedly gassed. He had been begging for medical treatment. And 36-year-old Damion Foster died at the Charlotte Correctional Institution after a run-in with officers in the prison's mental health unit. In nearly each case, the Herald found attempts to cover up the incidents or such slow, shoddy investigations that prison guards were rarely held to account. In July, four corrections department investigators filed a federal whistle-blower lawsuit, alleging that they had been targeted for exposing guards' criminal activity.

Among the changes Crews announced last month is the creation of a database that will allow the public to access information about every inmate death that is not a result of natural causes. The department also wants to expand crisis intervention training for its officers so they can respond appropriately in situations involving mentally ill inmates. Going forward, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement will investigate all inmate deaths that are not due to natural causes. A remarkable 82 investigations are underway.

Crews has taken an important step by introducing reform to an agency that for too long has operated outside the bounds of public accountability. He contends that the majority of department's officers are upstanding and that instances of inmate abuse are the result of a few bad apples. Crews may be right, but he should remain vigilant and open to the possibility that a broader problem exists and bolder action will be needed.

Corrections officers need to know that punishment for inmate abuse will be swift and consistent throughout the state. The only way to stamp out violence against inmates is to hold guards accountable for their criminal or disrespectful acts. Inmates, no matter how despicable their crimes or behavior, do not deserve to be abused by the officers tasked with keeping them safe.

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Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Published: 01/17/18
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

For the longest time, injured workers in Florida were basically at the mercy of the whims of employers to treat them fairly. A 2003 law aimed at reducing the cost of workers’ compensation coverage for businesses had the desired impact, but it also di...
Published: 01/16/18

Another voice: Why just Florida?

Cynicism has always been a part of politics, but rarely are politicians so brazen and self-serving as President Donald Trump and his interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, have been over the past week. First they announced a new offshore drilling plan that ...
Published: 01/16/18
Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Today’s holiday honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. couldn’t be more timely. At a moment when the nation’s civic dialogue is choking on personal and political division, it is hard to remember an earlier time when role models were role m...
Published: 01/15/18

Another voice: 38 minutes of fear in Hawaii

In 1938, Orson Welles panicked the nation with a false alarm about a Martian invasion in the radio broadcast The War of the Worlds. That was farfetched, of course. But what happened on Saturday, sadly, was not so hard to imagine — or believe.Authorit...
Published: 01/14/18
Updated: 01/16/18
Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

As it has for decades, Florida stubbornly clings to an inhumane, inefficient and indefensible system of justice that permanently sentences more than 1.5 million residents to second-class citizenship. This state automatically revokes the right to vote...
Published: 01/13/18
Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

President Donald Trump’s vulgar outbursts during a White House meeting on immigration are racist and indefensible no matter how he parses them. They are not presidential, they undermine U.S. foreign relations and they do not reflect America’s values....
Published: 01/12/18

Editorial: Pinellas commission stands up for accountability

The Pinellas County Commission has gotten the message that it should not be a rubber stamp. Commissioners sent a clear signal this week they will demand more accountability of local agencies by refusing to approve nominees for the board for CareerSou...
Published: 01/11/18
Updated: 01/12/18