What is a fair punishment for boiling a man to death?
At least not in Florida.
In 2012, Darren Rainey was serving a two year sentence at Dade Prison for a non-violent drug offense. Mr. Rainey, who battled mental illness, reportedly had defecated in his cell and refused to clean it up. In retaliation, correctional officers brought Mr. Rainey to the showers and left him under what apparently was scalding hot water. According to at least one inmate, the halls were filled with Mr. Rainey’s tortured cries. When Mr. Rainey was found dead, a full two hours after the torture had begun, his skin was so hot that it peeled from his body.
Just last week, Katherine Fernandez Rundle, the Miami-Dade County state attorney, ended her drawn-out official investigation into Rainey’s death and declared that no criminal charges would be brought. According to Rundle’s report, there was no evidence that the staff disregarded Mr. Rainey’s well-being. Instead, Mr. Rainey died from schizophrenia, heart problems and “confinement inside the shower room.”
I’ve never heard of a death “caused by shower confinement.” But I guess it could happen. Particularly if a person was barricaded into a shower stall where the water was set to one hundred and sixty degrees, as seems to have happened in Mr. Rainey’s case.
Dade Prison seems rife with abuse. Staff members reportedly starve and torture the mentally ill inmates who have the misfortune to be housed in Dade’s mental-health ward.
Dickinson could not have described a more vile, violent or inhumane place.
When Mr. Rainey was incarcerated for his drug offense, he was taken from his home and locked away from the world, entirely dependent on the correctional staff to care for him. Instead, they left him in a scalding shower to die.
When prison–torture targets the mentally ill, it is even more unjust. Vulnerable and sick, the mentally ill have been routinely warehoused in prison cells instead of being treated for their disorders. Their illnesses make it even more difficult for their voices to be heard in the face of indifference and cruelty.
The Florida State Attorney should be a voice for the mentally ill in prison. In the face of unchecked violence, Florida’s state attorney had the power to act. But she chose to look away from the institution’s cruelty, abuse and neglect.
The last hope for Mr. Rainey is the Justice Department, which should intervene in this travesty. Because official silence sends the message that prison violence against mentally ill inmates is not a problem. It is message that’s just as bad as the violence itself.