Marco Rubio wants answers on Florida prison rape scandal
MIAMI (AP) — U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio told the director of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons he’s “deeply concerned” over the failure to protect inmates at a federal prison in Florida.
In a letter to director Michael Carvajal, the Florida senator also inquired about the Federal Correctional Complex Coleman’s handling of a recent audit that reviewed how incidents of rape behind bars are handled.
The Miami Herald reported in August about the agony of survivors frustrated that no criminal charges have been brought against prison officers for raping and abusing women housed at the women’s facility in Sumter County.
The father of Carleane Berman, who died of a drug overdose after her release, has publicly pushed for criminal charges against the officers who raped her, the Herald reported.
The U.S. government paid out around $12 million earlier this year in a settlement with 15 women who claimed sexual abuse at the prison. At least six of eight Coleman corrections officers admitted to “sexual conduct” with female inmates at the sprawling prison complex, the Herald reported. Seven have resigned or retired.
Rubio questioned an audit conducted in April. The audit is required under the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which requires correctional facilities to have safeguards to protect inmates from being sexually attacked or abused, whether by fellow inmates or staff members.
He asked why no female inmates were interviewed when auditors visited the prison in April.
“It appears that all female inmates were transferred from FCI Coleman to another prison just two days prior to the on-site audit. This is deeply concerning because it was female inmates who made the allegations of sexual abuse,” Rubio wrote to BOP Director Michael Carvajal.
A lawsuit filed by female inmates alleged that prison officials often moved them to solitary housing at a local county jail, to keep them silent or in fear. They also said officers took them to “dead spots” in the women’s facility, where surveillance cameras could not capture them being raped.
“The allegations made by inmates at FCI Coleman raise serious questions as to the facility’s compliance with PREA and the conduct of its officers,” wrote Rubio, citing coverage in the Herald and the Tampa Bay Times.
The Herald said the bureau of prisons declined comment on Rubio’s letter, saying it responds directly to members of Congress and their staff.
Ron Berman, the father of Carleane Berman, said he’s glad that the Bureau of Prisons is getting public pressure, and he wants more elected leaders to demand answers.
“The wardens knew about this — and conspired to silence the voices of the women who were remanded into their care,” Berman said.