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Inmates' attorneys pledge to continue suit over treatment

Published Oct. 18, 2005

State officials hope their request for $10-million will stave off a trial over the treatment of prisoners requiring special protection, but inmates' attorneys say it isn't enough to make them stop. "It's a big step forward," attorney Randall Berg of the Florida Justice Institute said. "But nowhere near where we want."

Superintendents from 17 prisons being considered for remodeled isolation cells are scheduled to meet today in Tallahassee to discuss possible changes.

The lawsuit that prompted the meeting was filed in 1988, charging inmates who seek protection behind bars are treated as if they are being punished.

At any time, as many as 800 inmates who have been assaulted or threatened by other prisoners are confined to the one- and two-inmate cells, and their activities are restricted.

But the biggest complaint from inmates is that they lose valuable early-release credits because they are not allowed to participate in prison work programs while in protective confinement.

Hoping to avoid a trial or negotiated settlement, state prison officials have changed rules to allow the inmates to work, watch television, attend religious services, make one telephone call per day and have more than three showers a week.

Instead of special cells at each prison, about a dozen of the state's 42 major prisons will be equipped to handle inmates who need protection.

Court records show Corrections Secretary Richard Dugger intends to ask the Legislature for a $9.8-million increase in his next two budgets to add 341 employees to supervise the protected inmates.