Florida Institutional Legal Services Project

The Florida Institutional Legal Services Project (FILS) is a branch of Florida Legal Services. FILS has been providing civil legal assistance to indigent people in state custody for over 30 years. FILS is the only statewide program in Florida dedicated to serving the institutionalized. In the face of dramatically diminishing resources for legal services on behalf of prisoners, FILS focuses its courtroom advocacy on impact litigation that maximizes the effect of our work. FILS also provides direct legal services to formerly institutionalized individuals to help end the cycle of recidivism through successful re-entry into the community. Over the past decade, FILS has increasingly used our advocacy to reduce and prevent the institutionalization of vulnerable populations, including, for example, children and the developmentally disabled.

THE CASE: Through intensive investigation and outreach, FILS has discovered that the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) is locking its most severely mentally ill inmates in their cells for 23-24 hours per day. These inmates, despite having been identified by the FDOC as the sickest patients in the state prison system, are confined in mental health units for treatment of their acute mental illnesses. Instead of receiving treatment in a therapeutic milieu, these inmates are being “managed” through the use of solitary confinement and restricted privileges with disastrous results. All credible experts agree that when inmates are at their sickest, they need the most out-of-cell time, privileges, visitation with family, and treatment activities to help stabilize them. The FDOC’s approach is counterproductive and unconstitutional. FILS will use the grant funds to complete its investigation and pursue litigation to correct these unconstitutional policies and practices.

Contact: Christopher Jones, Director, Florida Institutional Legal Services Project, 14260 W. Newberry Rd. #412, Newberry, FL 32669.