According to the Miami Herald, the number of prisoner deaths in Florida rose 20 percent last year, giving 2017 the highest number of deaths ever recorded. A total of 428 inmates died while incarcerated, and they were dying at younger ages than usual.
“A 20 percent spike in prison deaths is of course alarming, as is the fact that it’s younger inmates that are dying, rather than people who have been in there for decades,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the Florida American Civil Liberties Union. “But I don’t want to jump to any conclusions. Many of these are under investigations. And there’s multiple causes.”
The many factors involved make it difficult to get to the bottom of what caused the spike in deaths - inmates with psychological issues, drug overdoses, and staffing shortages, among others.
The Florida prison system has long been considered one of the most dangerous by almost any metric, including inmate-on-inmate violence, use-of-force by staff and problems with delivery of healthcare. But there is no easy answer as to why the number of deaths spiked so drastically from one year to the next. The FDC has begun an internal investigation. The causes of death are nearly all pending further investigation.
State Rep. David Richardson, a Democrat from Miami Beach, has been active around Florida prison issues for years and is looking into the recent jump. He said mental health patients at Dade — it is one of a handful of institutions that cater to inmates with psychological issues — could contribute to the institution’s high mortality numbers. Between 2010 and 2016, the FDC reported a 51 percent increase in inmates with mental illnesses.
Others have pointed to potential increases in drug use among prisoners, particularly synthetic marijuana, also known as K2 or spice.
It’s often chosen by inmates over marijuana because it does not show up on routine urine tests performed in the prison. Unlike marijuana, K2 has been known to cause combativeness, delusions and psychosis, and in some cases can lead to lethal overdoses.
Staff shortages likely contribute to the issue as well, particularly when it comes to inmates at risk for suicide.
“There are some deaths that can be prevented if you had enough people to have enough checks,” said Rivera. He said mistakes like the one involved in the Singleton case are inevitable under the current prison system, citing a staffing shortage that continues to plague Florida prisons. “It’s humanly impossible for them to do the checks that they want them to do in that amount of time and get everything else done, too.”