Lawmakers refile bill to test body cameras at women’s prison ‘notorious’ for abuse
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 2/10/23-Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson, D-Gainesville, debates against the migrant relocation bill, Friday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

'These women had their constitutional rights violated.'

Gainesville Rep. Yvonne Hinson is again trying to bring additional accountability to a Florida women’s prison where a federal investigation revealed “notorious acts of sexual abuse, including rape, against prisoners.”

This time, she’s enlisting Miami Gardens Sen. Shevrin Jones, a fellow Democrat and prison reform advocate, in her effort to get guards there outfitted with body cameras.

The Ocala prison in question, Lowell Correctional Institution, was the subject of a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) probe from 2018-2020. Investigators concluded that the prison repeatedly failed to prevent the rape and violent mistreatment of inmates, who remained at “substantial risk of serious harm because existing systems discourage prisoners from reporting, (detecting and effectively deterring) sexual abuse.”

The horrifying, 36-page report was published in December 2020, more than five years after a Miami Herald investigation called attention to problems at Lowell, Florida’s oldest and largest women’s penitentiary. It made mention of a 2019 incident in which a lieutenant at the prison “accused repeatedly of sexually abusing multiple prisoners” allegedly slammed inmate Cheryl Weimar to the concrete floor and kicked her, leaving her paralyzed with a broken neck.

“In August 2020, (the Florida Department of Corrections) settled a lawsuit related to the prisoner’s paralysis for $4.65 million,” the report said.

“As part of that case, a former prisoner who recently had been released from Lowell testified under oath that this lieutenant threatened ‘to put you under investigation and take your gain time’ if you did not ‘take care of him,’ which the prisoner understood to mean ‘oral or regular sex.’”

DOJ personnel wrote 22 times about how “inadequate” camera surveillance enabled the abusive guards and staff. So, in early 2021, Hinson and Miami Democratic Sen. Annette Taddeo filed twin bills to create a three-year pilot program requiring all correctional officers there to wear body cameras.

“We must be clear,” Hinson said in a statement at the time. “These women had their constitutional rights violated. My office will continue to apply pressure and ensure that these women are protected and are treated with dignity.”

The measures died without a hearing. Now they’re back.

The bills from Jones and Hinson (SB 108, HB 391) would require each correctional officer at Lowell to wear a body camera while on duty from July 1, 2024, to June 30, 2027. The Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) would have to establish policies and procedures for the cameras’ “proper use, maintenance, and storage,” including the storage of recordings.

Those guidelines would have to include general use, maintenance and storage standards; any limitations on prisoner-related interactions while the cameras are in use; and a provision allowing guards to review their footage before writing or providing a report on events the cameras record.

That last requirement may be suspended in cases where guards need to report an issue in a timely manner to secure an active crime scene or identify suspects or witnesses.

The DOC would be responsible for upholding these standards. It would also be tasked with retaining all audio and video recordings and performing periodic reviews to “ensure conformity” with agency policies.

On June 30, 2025, the DOC would have to submit a report to the Governor, Senate President, House Speaker and the minority leaders of the House and Senate detailing the program’s operations in the previous year.

The report, at minimum, would have to include findings based on reviews of incidents at Lowell and how helpful the body cameras were, proposals for changes to existing policies and procedures, and other pertinent information.

“With the rise in incidents in our jails,” Jones told Florida Politics, “it is only right that levels of accountability are put in place for the safety of those incarcerated and our correctional officers.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at Jess[email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


  • Helpwoman

    November 16, 2023 at 6:35 am

    Unfortunately Florida GOP and DeathSantis has shown they have NO RESPECT for free women. They truly believe we are lucky to have the right to vote and certainly have no rights over our bodies. They support a man convicted of RAPE. They will not support caring for women incarcerated and I’m sure will find some trumpian names to dehumanize

  • Sonja Fitch

    November 16, 2023 at 8:28 am

    Do it! Prison ain’t for guards and staff to rape and abuse Women! NO ONE IS ABOVE THE LAW! Enough of this bs!

  • KathrynA

    November 20, 2023 at 8:38 am

    This is all too common in both men and women’s prisons in the state and they have no recourse; except to report it to other guards, who generally cover for the others.
    The medical care once it became privatized as become almost non-existent and the calories in the meals are not enough to sustain normal body weight.
    Many of the inmates are in custody for less serious things than what the guards do daily–such as drug smuggling, beatings for no reason, sexual abuse and rape and beatings of inmates–often for no reason. They need cameras and body cameras all through the prisons–even the showers (this is where much of the abuse happens-even to leaving the prisoner shackled under scalding water)

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