DOJ goes after Florida prison for years-long sexual abuse of female inmates

Lowell, one of the nation's largest women's prisons is rampant with sexual violence, says a new report

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One of the country’s largest women’s prisons is under fire for a long history of abusing its inmates.

A Department of Justice investigation found that officers at Lowell Correctional Institution have been sexually abusing inmates for years. The facility has 49 days to address the issue or face legal consequences, per the Miami Herald in a report published Tuesday.

“[The] sexual abuse of women prisoners by Lowell corrections officers and staff is severe and prevalent throughout the prison,’’ said the DOJ in a report on Tuesday.

“We are so used to Lowell getting away with everything. It’s got to stop now. I hope this is a big hammer on top of that prison,’’ said activist Debra Bennett, who has been fighting for years to see reform at Lowell.

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“Our punishment was to be removed from society for our crimes — not to be raped or groped or pushed and beaten, crippled and killed.’’

Officers have a lengthy history of beating, choking, and raping inmates, the investigation found. The abuse was so astonishing they labeled the treatment of inmates as a violation of the Eighth Amendment which protects against cruel and unusual punishment.

The department interviewed dozens of inmates and reviewed 100,000 pages of documents. They also discovered guards would demand sex for basic human needs.

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“Prisoners were forced or coerced to perform fellatio on or touch intimate body parts of staff. In other incidents, staff demanded that prisoners undress in front them, sometimes in exchange for basic necessities, such as toilet paper.’’

(Adobe Stock photo)

The DOJ concludes, “These were not isolated incidents.’’

The report also says that the prison failed to do anything about the abuse.

“Officials at FDOC and Lowell have been on notice of incidents of staff sexual abuse of prisoners for years and have failed to reasonably address the deficiencies that enabled the abuse to occur,” the report said.

But despite the investigation, the DOJ has not held any one person responsible.

“They could never make this a criminal case because they would have to arrest everybody. That prison is so corrupt that everyone is in on it,’’ said Bennett, a former Lowell inmate. She now runs a nonprofit to help women in the prison system.

One woman, Latandra Ellington, died at the prison in 2014 days after sending her family a letter that a guard threatened to kill her.

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