Federal suit filed to end solitary confinement in Florida


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WFLA) – One out of seven prisoners in solitary confinement throughout the nation are housed in Florida prisons, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The organization has filed a class action lawsuit against the Florida Department of Corrections, alleging the state’s overuse of solitary confinement constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

Laurette Philipsen spent 28 days in solitary confinement in a Florida prison. 

She describes the experience as one of the worst in her life.

“You start contemplating… how to end this,” said Philipsen.

She’s been out of the system for a year now, but says she’s still haunted by her days in isolation.

“The maximum amount I sleep at a time is three hours,” said Philipsen.

Philipsen’s experience isn’t unique. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center says 10 percent of Florida prisoners are housed in solitary confinement at any given time. 

That’s about 10,000 inmates.

“There’s a lot of self mutilation that happens. There’s attempts at suicide,” said Shalini Goel Agarwal, an Attorney with SPLC. 

“Even more mildly there’s hallucinations, anxiety, withdrawal, depression.”

The group has filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of inmates currently housed in isolation. 

One plaintiff named in the suit, Jac’Quann (Admire) Harvard, has been in solitary for more than 10 years.

Their goal is to end the use of solitary confinement in the state in its entirety.

The Department of Corrections says it has not been served the lawsuit yet. 

In a statement the Department said, “The Florida Department of Corrections is committed to providing for the safety and wellbeing of all inmates in our custody. Inmates who cause harm to those around them are placed in restrictive housing settings for the safety of other inmates and our officers.”

But Philipsen says there are more ethical ways of punishing bad behavior.

“It’s the same as raising your child,” said Philipsen.

“When you feel that they’ve misbehaved, do you lock them in a box? Do you lock them in a closet? Is that what you do? And then just leave them there?”

Similar lawsuits have been filed in both Virginia and Illinois.

The Department of Corrections also said in its statement, “Protections are in place to ensure all medical and mental health needs of these inmates are being met. Mandatory visits from security officers, chaplaincy and medical are made routinely to inmates in this level of housing. There are processes in place to evaluate these inmates and transition them back into general population.”

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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