Fla: 30 Florida prison nurses claim inmate harassment

  1. Nurses claim inmate harassment

    A group of 30 Florida prison healthcare workers has filed a class-action lawsuit against the Florida Department of Corrections, alleging that male inmates have for years been allowed to sexually harass female nurses.

    Panama City News Herald, April 17, 2002
    The News Herald

    Thirty prison health-care workers filed a class-action suit against the Florida Department of Corrections Tuesday, claiming that male inmates have for years been allowed to expose themselves and otherwise sexually harass female nurses in close-management institutions.

    At least five state institutions are named in the suit, and 15 of the plaintiffs were formerly or are currently employed at the Washington (County) Correctional Institution in Chipley.

    Attorney Wes Pittman said the department condoned the routine sexual harassment of his clients by allowing inmates' behavior to go unpunished. Inmates exposed themselves and masturbated in the nurses' presence, the suit says."These women told me that their jobs got to them so badly that they would go home and couldn't let their husbands near them," Pittman said.

    "The state has a statutory obligation to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace," he said. "I would expect prison authorities to enforce the law. Instead of laying down the law, they are condoning bad behavior and expecting these nurses to pay the price."

    Officials with the Florida Department of Corrections and the Washington Correctional declined Tuesday to comment on the lawsuit.

    In almost every case in question, the nurses are required to administer daily medication to inmates and watch them take it. Nurses were sexually harassed during those times, the lawsuit states.

    Pittman said the nurses' complaints were ignored at all levels of the department, and nurses were instructed not to write disciplinary reports on inmates. He said they did not receive training to help them deal with inmates' sexual harassment.

    "It's a heavy weight upon their shoulders - knowing that correctional authorities are going to do nothing about their problem," Pittman said. "You give the inmate additional outside jail time or remove their privileges. That becomes the deterrent.

    "The department took away the nurses' ability to file a complaint," he said. "That was their only means of combating that behavior. They (the department) aren't taking care of their own people, and they're violating state law."

    Pittman said correctional officials have responded to the complaints, telling the nurses they should expect that type of behavior in a male prison and that they should "learn to live with it."

    "It's unfortunate," Pittman said. "Many of these nurses have left the field all together. We need good health-care people in our prisons, and the department is chasing them off."

    The writer can be contacted at djackson@pcnh.com
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