Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Legislators Get Earful about Florida's Prison Problems; Author of 'Orange Is the New Black' Also Offers Suggestions for Fixes

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Legislators Get Earful about Florida's Prison Problems; Author of 'Orange Is the New Black' Also Offers Suggestions for Fixes

Article excerpt

Byline: Tia Mitchell

TALLAHASSEE | Piper Kerman's memoir about the year she spent in a woman's prison inspired an Emmy-winning Netflix series and made her a celebrity. But she can't stop talking about women like Latandra Ellington who didn't fare remotely as well in Florida's criminal justice system.

Ellington was an inmate at Lowell Correctional Institution in Ocala when she died under suspicious circumstances in 2014 after writing letters to a family member saying she feared being beaten by prison guards. Kerman, author of "Orange is the New Black" that inspired a hit show of the same name, mentioned Ellington several times as she spoke about Florida's need for reforms.

"Sometimes people ask me what are the worst systems in the country, and you have to name-check Florida because the level of violence and depravity that is coming out of Florida's system, not from prisoners and inmates but from some of the people who operate those systems is astonishing," Kerman said during a brief visit to the Capitol Tuesday. "And so the level of unresolved deaths, murders, that are happening in Florida state prisons all over the state are jaw-dropping."

Kerman's personal story is well known: she served 15 months in federal prison for a drug trafficking crime she had committed 10 years prior.

The 2010 best-seller about her experiences led to a show that debuted in 2013. Kerman now regularly hits the speaker circuit as an advocate for women's rights and criminal justice reform.

She was in Tallahassee for a speaking engagement at Florida State University. But Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, invited her to speak first to legislators who are grappling with how to handle issues of inmate deaths and abuse that were largely uncovered by an investigative series printed in the Miami Herald.

The Senate has a long list of proposed reforms, including more training for corrections officers, new ways to report abuses anonymously, more inspection of facilities and stiffer criminal penalties for officers found guilty of mistreating inmates. …

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