I am in agreement with a dramatic sentence reduction for Harold Hempstead. His courage has to count for something. But let's not stop there. Insanely long sentences for the mentally ill must be reduced as well. Mental illness has become criminalized as a consequence of a culture that provides few treatment alternatives for the poor and disenfranchised. If you're rich - go to Betty Ford. If you're poor - go to prison! Treatment of the mentally ill in a prison psych ward amounts to nothing more than a last ditch effort with below average outcomes.
Let's take a closer look at older inmates in Harold's category - men and women who've served excessively long sentences for nonviolent offenses. Florida is chock full of those who've been in prison 20, 30, or 40 years and longer. As inmates age, the greater the costs, at taxpayer expense, to keep them in prison. Sensible and intelligent sentence reform would save taxpayers millions while treating those, who more than "paid their debt to society", in a manner more humane than possible in the FL DOC - an agency riddled with corruption and brutality.
AUGUST 12, 2015
Inmate — and public servant
Forgive Harold Hempstead for not being perfect. He’s a felon serving a 165-year prison sentence in the series of
prisons. He’s a convicted burglar whose life of crime started as a teenager. He
has also seen, and been forced to participate in, the horrors that rogue prison
guards carry out as sport against inmates, especially the mentally ill. Florida
And he has managed to hold on to his humanity. For that alone, he deserves a shot at a second chance.
At great risk to his safety — and his life — Hempstead, 39, blew the whistle on the abject violence he had seen in prison, the worst of it meted out by guards who made degrading, torturing and even killing inmates a routine part of their jobs. Unfortunately, he had to blow that whistle long and loud before anyone would listen, especially authorities in the Department of Corrections.
Clearly, prison guards have a tough job. But the corrections system in
— and so many across the nation —
still are riddled with guards who have lost almost all sense of human decency.
Not Florida Hempstead. He was sickened by the violence
he had witnessed at the Dade Correctional Institution. The horrific death of
Darren Rainey, a mentally ill inmate locked in a scalding shower, pushed him to
He told prison doctors and nurses, then a counselor, DOC officials, the Miami-Dade police and the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office. No one raised an eyebrow.
The Herald, specifically reporter Julie Brown, listened. And that’s when
allegations got traction. And action only after months of stories that did
a deep dive into the violence that the state sanctioned by its silence.
There have been changes for the better: Among them, guards have been fired for excessive force; there’s an inmate mortality database — that must truly become a public account of prison deaths; new DOC chief Julie Jones has a welcome mandate from Gov. Scott to overhaul DOC; corrections officers are to receive crisis-intervention training; and DOC has ordered surveillance cameras to be installed throughout the system.
But so many loose ends remain: More than three years after Rainey’s death, his family has yet to be told by the medical examiner how he died. That is cruel, unacceptable. And no matter where inmate
Hempstead is imprisoned,
he remains in danger from being the “snitch,” a derogatory term of intimidation
that prevents too many people who know something from doing the right thing. It
would behoove the DOC to be far more proactive in ensuring his safety. His
blood on the agency’s hands would rightly bring a storm of outraged inquiry as
to why he wasn’t better protected. In fact, DOC has yet to interview Hempstead about Rainey’s death. Again, unacceptable.
He is serving a 165-year sentence for a series of nonviolent crimes, sentenced in 2000 by a judge who told him, “I hope you die in prison.” In this state, murderers can walk free from prison in what seems like the blink of an eye. By all accounts, Hempstead, of
has become an exemplary inmate, and given the depth and breadth results that
his powerful story has forced, his extreme sentence, indeed, deserves a second
look. Yes, he must pay a debt to society, however even some criminal attorneys
concur that his judge’s comments are reason enough to ask the court to
reconsider, and perhaps reduce, his sentence. This would be more than time off
for good behavior. Rather, it would be time earned for his transformational
public service. St. Petersburg