January 12, 2023
Florida Department of Corrections Compensated for Legal Costs in Activists’ Failed Attempt to Disrupt Restrictive Housing
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Three years after filling a federal class action lawsuit, Southern Poverty Law Center, Florida Legal Services, and the Florida Justice Institute dropped their unjustified case and paid the Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) more than $210,000 in legal costs. The class action complaint alleged FDC engaged in unconstitutional solitary confinement of approximately 10,000 inmates. FDC refuted these assertions, noting the vast majority of these inmates were in double occupancy cells and experienced frequent human interaction and programming.
Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Ricky Dixon said, “While I respect other reasonable viewpoints on the use of restrictive housing, decisions must inherently be left up to experienced corrections leaders who are ultimately responsible for managing the nation’s most dangerous criminals – not activist groups representing frequently distorted, inaccurate, and deficiently supported ideologies that risk serious threat to staff and the majority of the inmate population alike. Whether for disingenuous or well-intended purposes, failure to properly secure and house an individual inmate who has proven to be dangerous and violent - asserting that doing so would negatively impact his or her mental capacity - is not only irresponsible but prioritizes that individual’s wellbeing over the lives of hundreds of staff and other inmates. Further, Plaintiffs inaccurate definition of double occupancy cells as ‘solitary confinement’ is a gross distortion of the English language and exposes the activists’ agenda as nothing more than emotional manipulation.”
Plaintiffs’ counsel reviewed millions of pages of documents and toured numerous facilities. The search was fruitless, and Plaintiffs’ counsel ultimately moved to dismiss the case with prejudice.
Florida inmates housed in restrictive housing are separated from the general population for reasons of safety, security, or the management of the institution, due to the actions of these inmates. This is not solitary confinement, as most inmates are placed with a cellmate. If the inmate is housed alone, he or she is not isolated from human contact. The number of inmates in long-term restrictive housing represents 5% of the total inmate population.
For the past several years, public interest groups driven by activists, such as psychologist Craig Haney, have engaged in a nationwide effort to limit the options correctional professionals have in managing the most difficult and violent inmates.
“The use of restrictive housing is not ‘one size fits all,’ and a number of variables impact its necessity within prison systems,” Secretary Dixon continued. “It is ill-advised to allow public interest groups to unreasonably limit the options of corrections professionals in dealing with violent inmates. I commend our legal team for their diligent work on the case.”
FDC takes seriously the mandate to protect the public, its staff, and the inmates in its charge from the most dangerously volatile inmates in state custody, and this mandate is carried out in a constitutional manner.
As Florida's largest state agency, and the third largest state prison system in the country, FDC employs 24,000 members, incarcerates 80,000 inmates and supervises nearly 146,000 offenders in the community.