Ocala, Florida - The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida Tuesday concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe that the conditions at Lowell Correctional Institution (Lowell) in Ocala, violate the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. Specifically, the department concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe that Lowell fails to protect prisoners from sexual abuse by the facility’s staff.
As required by the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), the department provided the facility with written notice of the supporting facts for these alleged conditions and the minimum remedial measures necessary to address them.
“Prison officials have a constitutional duty to protect prisoners from harm, including sexual abuse by staff,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division. “Sexual abuse is never acceptable, and it is not part of any prisoner’s sentence. Our investigation found that staff sexually abused women incarcerated at Lowell and that these women remain at substantial risk of sexual abuse by staff. Our investigation also found that sexual abuse is frequent. This systemic misconduct means that many women suffer abuse. In addition, prisoners are discouraged from reporting sexual abuse and investigations of sexual abuse allegations are inadequate. This illegal and indecent treatment of women must end, and the Department of Justice will not tolerate it.”
“Sexual abuse cannot be tolerated anywhere and female prison inmates are particularly vulnerable during their confinement,” said U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez for the Middle District of Florida. “This investigation represents a first step towards putting an end to sexual abuse at the Lowell Correctional Institution, and we look forward to working with the State of Florida in finding tangible, effective solutions.”
The Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Middle District of Florida initiated the investigation in April 2018 under CRIPA, which authorizes the department to take action to address a pattern or practice of deprivation of constitutional rights of individuals confined to state or local government-run correctional facilities.