A recent gas explosion at the Escambia County Jail in Pensacola has exposed a plethora of hazardous conditions that may have contributed to the blast that killed two prisoners and wounded almost 200 guards and inmates.
The recent spate of foul weather that inundated the Florida Panhandle caused the jail’s basement to take on over two feet of water. The jail itself was operating on a generator for its power. The Associated Press reports that an inmate said the cell toilets were non-functioning, and prisoners were eliminating into plastic bags at the time of the blast.
After the explosion, 600 inmates raced from the building, causing jail personnel to be unable to locate three inmates for some time.
The Florida jail was under investigation for its violence and safety violations that included “grossly” understaffed posts and rare cell searches for contraband.
The Justice Department issued a report in 2013 that described jail conditions and documented the troubles at the facility. The 1st Judicial District’s elected public defender recently said he has been concerned for a long time over jail conditions and understaffing issues and hoped the blast would spark another review of the facility.
According to the report, the Justice Department highlighted “obvious and known systemic deficiencies” to the Escambia County sheriff and county commission. Said deficiencies were a violation of the constitutional rights of the jail inmates.
There was systemic violence and a dearth of mental health and medical services available to the prison population. Staff shortages contributed to the worrisome conditions. A study done in 2011 indicated that the lack of staffing was a precursor to an incident that would “overwhelm the jail’s ability to respond.”
After the explosion, investigators with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives combed through the wreckage in an attempt to determine the cause. Some inmates reported to their family members that they detected the smell of gas before the explosion, but officials with the county said that there was no record of their concerns.
Those who were injured in an accident due to dangerous conditions on the property may have grounds for compensation in a premises liability suit. Just because someone is incarcerated does not mean that he or she has forfeited his or her rights.
Source: New Pittsburgh Courier, “Florida jail that exploded had past problems; 2 killed, nearly 200 injured” Melissa Nelson-Gabriel and Tamara Lush, May. 03, 2014