Senator calls on Gov. DeSantis to oust Florida woman’s prison warden after abuse report

Department of Justice investigation found widespread abuse of woman at Lowell Correctional

Lowell Correctional Institution in Ocala. (Image: Florida DOC) (WKMG 2020)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After federal officials last week released a report about staff members sexually abusing women inmates at Lowell Correctional Institution, state Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, sent a letter calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to “act decisively” and request the resignation of the prison’s warden.

“The women at Lowell Correctional Institution fully recognize that their own actions have resulted in their removal from society, but the persistent sexual abuse they have been subjected to is inhumane and detrimental to the reputation of our state,” Cruz wrote in the letter dated Sunday. “These women deserve better.”

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An investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and Florida federal prosecutors found reasonable cause to believe “varied and disturbing reports” of sexual abuse --- including rape --- by sergeants, correctional officers and other staff at Lowell, which is in Marion County.

The 34-page report of the investigation, which began in 2018, also noted that state Department of Corrections officials have documented and been aware of sexual abuse at Lowell since at least 2006.

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In calling for the resignation of Warden Stephen Rossiter, Cruz wrote that while the investigation focused on the period from 2017 to 2019, “it notes multiple incidents that have occurred well into 2020. The pattern of abuse at this facility is documented dating back to 2005, and it is unfathomable that it continues to go unaddressed.”

After the report was released Dec. 22, Florida Corrections Secretary Mark Inch said his agency “has cooperated fully” with the federal agency and will continue to do so.

“We appreciate the work of the U.S. Department of Justice and will be sharing the actions our department has taken to address the serious concerns outlined in their review,” Inch said in a prepared statement.