Beyond Punishment

A Miami Herald investigation of Lowell Correctional Institution

Lowell Correctional Institution holds the lion’s share of Florida’s female inmates.

With about 2,700 inmates, it is the largest women’s prison in the United States.

But inside, Lowell has too few cameras, making it easy to abuse inmates without consequences.

In the past decade, amid staff shortages and mismanagement, the abuse has become intolerable, some women say.

The worst abuse, inmates say, is guards who use their positions of power to pressure women to have sex.

Crystal Harper, a former inmate, said she and other women had sex with guards to avoid confinement, a more restrictive form of incarceration.

At Lowell, as at other Florida prisons, inmates have died under suspicious conditions. Family members complain they are given little explanation.

On Sept. 21, 2014, Latandra Ellington filed a report about seeing a guard having sex with an inmate.

After a confrontation with the officer, she wrote letters to her aunt, saying she feared for her life.

Days later, Ellington was found dead. A state autopsy report said she died of natural causes.

However, independent forensic pathologists said the autopsy failed to note a potentially lethal level of blood pressure medication in her system. 

Since her death, Ellington’s family has sought answers. Algarene Jennings, Ellington’s aunt, said they recently sued the state.

Prison healthcare is dangerously inadequate. In 2008, Tanya Yelvington found a lump on her breast and was told not to worry despite her family’s history of breast cancer.

Fourteen months later, the tumor doubled in size, and the cancer spread.

Doctors diagnosed Yelvington with life-threatening breast cancer and performed a double mastectomy. It left her mutilated and caused an infection that nearly killed her.

Prison officials deny conditions are anywhere near as dire as inmates claim.

Warden Angela Gordon said the prison has fired officers and is holding staff more accountable.

But inmates say that to this day, the Florida Department of Corrections continues to tolerate cruel and inhumane treatment by corrections officers and other staff.

Skip Intro