OCALA, Fla. — An investigation by the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division released Tuesday alleges that the Lowell Correctional Institution in Ocala has violated the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution by failing to protect female prisoners from sexual abuse by staff members.
The investigation, done in partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida, states that the Florida Department of Corrections failed to keep prisoners safe despite documented patterns of sexual abuse by staff since at least 2006.
“Despite being on notice of this sexual abuse, FDOC and Lowell failed to take timely action to remedy the systemic problems that have enabled corrections officers and other staff to continue to sexually abuse Lowell prisoners,” the investigation report states.
Investigators said the findings violate the Eighth Amendment, which states that prisons are required to protect prisoners from a range of types of harm, and to take reasonable measures to protect prisoners’ safety.
Lowell is the oldest women’s prison in Florida, having opened in 1956, and is the largest women’s prison in the country, housing more than 2,000 women.
The investigation describes several specific instances where prisoners reported being raped and sexually abused by prison staff.
The report states that their investigation found that it is common for officers to grope prisoners and bribe them with contraband for sex, as well as threaten prisoners with solitary confinement if they report sexual abuse.
Florida Rep. Anna Eskamani said she hopes after years of complaints over mistreatment the Department of Justice’s findings will finally be enough to force change.
“It’s unjust, it’s inhumane and it’s about time the DOC take the concerns seriously and do something about it,” Eskamani said.
Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Mark Inch released a statement in response to the report saying, “FDC has cooperated fully with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division during their investigation initiated in 2017 and will continue to do so. We appreciate the work of the U.S. Department of Justice and will be sharing the actions our Department has taken to address the serious concerns outlined in their review.”