Lawsuit Results: Humane Treatment Coming to Death Row Prisoners in Florida 


By Delilah Hammons 

TAMPA BAY, FL – Prisoners on death row in Florida are just now starting to get more humane treatment, writes Dan Sullivan, of Tampa, referencing “more than 300 prisoners are confined on Florida’s death row. Most have been there longer than a decade. Many have been there multiple decades.”

“U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard of Jacksonville in late April approved the settlement, in which the Florida Department of Corrections agreed to allow eligible death-sentenced prisoners to spend more time outside their cells, with some able to hold prison jobs within the death row housing unit. The agreement also guarantees access to mental health care, including psychiatric care, among other provisions,” said Sullivan.

Evan Shea, a lawyer with the Washington, D.C. based Venable Law Firm that was part of the lawsuit, commented, “[i]t’s been a tenet of our legal system, really since its inception, that no matter what anyone has done or what they’ve been convicted of, they deserve humane, responsible confinement.”

Shea added, “As we understand more about the effects of isolation on mental health, it’s very clear from the science that prolonged isolation is not a humane, just condition to place someone in.”

The article also states that “[t]he change represents a significant turn in Florida’s capital punishment history and an improvement to the safety and efficiency of the state’s prison system,” claim lawyers who brought the lawsuit.

“For more than 40 years, people sentenced to death in Florida have ended up in what the lawsuit described as ‘permanent solitary confinement.’ It is a limbo-like state that typically lasts decades and sometimes ends in execution, but often does not” Sullivan explained.

The article continued, noting “[t]he prisoners eat meals in their cells. They leave only for brief showers and three hours a week of recreation time in an outdoor yard. Interactions with other people are mostly limited to what the prisoners can hear from men in adjacent cells, and the occasional passing of a corrections officer.”

Sullivan wrote “[t]he lawsuit, originally filed in 2017, names as plaintiffs eight men who have lived on death row for periods ranging between four and 30 years. The complaint references research that has shown the adverse effects of long-term solitary confinement, which include heightened anxiety and nervousness, rumination, confused thoughts, chronic depression, mood swings, hallucinations, suicidal thoughts, and overall physical and mental deterioration.”

The goal of the settlement, wrote Sullivan, is “to change things, starting with an agreement that eligible prisoners will be able to spend at least 15 hours, and up to 20 hours a week, in a newly constructed day room at the end of a cell block. There, they can congregate with others, watch TV and access multimedia kiosks. They will also have increased access to telephones to communicate with loved ones, and increased access to showers.”

The settlement states, “Prison officials also agreed to extend outdoor recreation time to six hours a week. They will also install a sun shade in the recreation area to mitigate the intense Florida heat,” and Shea said, “Eligible prisoners can also have institutional jobs. Such jobs may include tasks like cleaning the death row housing area.”

“A prison classification team will determine which prisoners are eligible to partake in the changes, based on administrative rules. Generally, the regulations exclude prisoners who have committed major violations of prison rules, such as assault, murder or an attempted escape, according to the settlement.” Sullivan was told.

The article also explained that while “[t]he agreement did not achieve everything the lawyers for the condemned had initially sought[…]the lawyers saw the compromise as a victory.”

Shea said that “[t]his is going to lead to a smoother operation of the prison. It’s not a good way to run a prison to have inmates that are subject to severe psychological strain. That leads to unhappy prisoners, inmates that are not stable and react in ways that place burdens on correctional officers and on the prison administration.”

Sullivan explained the person with the longest term is “Tommy Zeigler, who has been on death row since 1976 after a jury found him guilty in the murders of four people at his Winter Garden furniture store. Ziegler maintains his innocence and has amassed significant public support as he seeks new DNA testing in his case.”

About The Author

Delilah Hammons attends Sacramento City College and plans on transferring to a UC in two years to major in English. She wants to purse a career as a writer after graduating with the hope of publishing her own books.

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