Like a growing number of Floridians, I am appalled at the barbaric and inhumane treatment that inmates in Florida prisons are being subjected to. Anyone not directly aware of the magnitude of problems in Florida prisons is encouraged to read the gruesome Miami Herald account of Ricky Martin’s death while in a Florida prison. Martin spoke out against prison conditions and was thereafter brutally raped and ultimately murdered. As detailed in the lawsuit, prison guards not only looked the other way while the brutal crimes were being committed, they even participated in the crimes by creating the conditions that allowed the crimes to occur. Martin’s ordeal is just one of a multitude reported in an ongoing Miami Herald series. It’s a series that every policy maker and all citizens should be carefully studying because these crimes and abuses are carried out and can only continue under the color of state power. A brutal power that is exercised on behalf of every single citizen of this state.
These crimes and abuses must stop and there is one very effective step that must immediately be taken to help stop them. Florida statutes contain a unique and powerful law that authorizes elected officials to perform unannounced inspections of any state correctional institution:
944.23 Persons authorized to visit state prisons.—The following persons shall be authorized to visit at their pleasure all state correctional institutions: The Governor, all Cabinet members, members of the Legislature, judges of state courts, state attorneys, public defenders, and authorized representatives of the commission. No other person not otherwise authorized by law shall be permitted to enter a state correctional institution except under such regulations as the department may prescribe. Permission shall not be unreasonably withheld from those who give sufficient evidence to the department that they are bona fide reporters or writers.
The utterly inexcusable problem is that very few of these officials who are authorized to make these inspections have ever actually conducted any inspections. The elected officials who are given this powerful right to inspect prisons must recognize that given this current crisis, their clear statutory right has now become a solemn obligation. It is long past time for every single elected official to fulfill their obligation both to prisoners in state custody and to every citizen of this state and begin making regular, unannounced inspections. Immediate change will occur when prison leadership, staff and prisoners themselves must begin to expect that regular inspections will occur with increasing frequency. The statute already exists, the intent is clear and there are no costs associated with fulfilling this clear mandate of state law. There is simply no excuse that these inspections should not begin to occur immediately.
One final challenge is issued to press both nationwide and within this state. The final sentence in statute can only be read to authorize press to also make inspections of our state prisons. Individual reporters and the press of this state are likewise challenged to exercise the rights provided to them under this statute.