Sen. Janet Cruz asked Gov. Ron DeSantis to request the Lowell Correctional Institute warden’s resignation after the release of a federal investigation highlighting abuse at the women’s prison.
“I urge you to act decisively and request the immediate resignation of the current warden, Stephen Rossiter,” Cruz wrote in a letter Sunday. “The pattern of abuse at this facility is documented dating back to 2005, and it is unfathomable that it continues to go unaddressed.”
The investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, released last week, showed that for more than a decade, the state failed to protect inmates at Florida’s largest women’s prison from sexual abuse by staff.
The report — 34-pages in length — found “varied and disturbing reports” of sexual abuse, including rape, by sergeants, correctional officers and other staff at the Ocala prison. The investigation began in 2018 but noted that the state Department of Corrections had documented sexual abuse at the prison since at least 2006.
“The women at Lowell Correctional Institution fully recognize that their own actions have resulted in their removal from society, but the persistent sexual abuse they have been subjected to is inhumane, and detrimental to the reputation of our state,” Cruz wrote in the letter. “These women deserve better. As a vocal advocate for ‘law and order,’ I trust that you will take immediate action to address the violation of Constitutional and human rights in our state.”
In her letter, Cruz also criticizes the Florida Department of Corrections and the state for negligence in the prison abuse.
“It is explicitly clear that our State, the Florida Department of Corrections and Lowell Correctional Institution are willfully negligent of the women imprisoned therein,” she said in the letter. “The conditions described within the DOJ report are not only morally bankrupt but violate our nations’ Constitution.”
Cruz was also quick to scrutinize the state’s handling of its unemployment system, which has been on overdrive due to mass job-loss due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I am quite certain that, unlike an internal audit of our state’s ineffectual unemployment system, the report from the DOJ will reach your desk,” Cruz said in the letter. “The report itself states clearly that 49 days after issuance the United States Attorney General may ‘initiate a lawsuit pursuant to CRIPA (Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act) to correct deficiencies identified in this letter if State officials have not satisfactorily addressed our concerns.'”
Other state legislators have also come out in response to the DOJ report, including Rep. Anna Eskamani of Orlando. Eskamani tweeted, saying the issues at Lowell must be addressed during the upcoming 2021 Legislative Session.
‘This is horrifying but also not surprising — we have done a surprise visit at Lowell CI, and the conditions are awful,” she tweeted. “Those who experience sexual assault are sometimes nervous to seek justice too.”
This is horrifying but also not surprising— we have done a surprise visit at Lowell CI and the conditions are awful. Those who experience sexual assault are sometimes nervous to seek justice too.
This MUST be a priority to correct in the 2021 legislative session. https://t.co/qq1uy9fkKw
— Rep. Anna V. Eskamani 🔨 (@AnnaForFlorida) December 22, 2020