UPDATE: Young inmate collapses after exercise, prison officials investigatingby Dara Kam | May 26th, 2010
An inmate is in critical condition after collapsing on Monday during exercises at Lancaster Correctional Institution near Gainesville, Department of Corrections Secretary Walt McNeil told reporters at a hastily-scheduled press conference early this morning.
The unidentified inmate, a male between the ages of 18 and 24, collapsed on his first day at the youthful offender facility which uses a boot-camp style program in which inmates exercise outdoors from early in the morning until nightfall, DOC officials said.
McNeil said he asked the agency’s inspector general to investigate the incident and that the inmate is now in a private hospital in critical condition. He also said he is considering changing the department’s policy requiring strenuous exercise in extreme heat.
The department’s response to the incident is a departure from the 2006 death of Martin Lee Anderson, a 14-year-old who collapsed and died after being beaten by guards after collapsing during exercises on his first day at the now-defunct Bay County Boot Camp in the Panhandle.
A coroner initially said the boy, who was black, died from complications related to sickle-cell disease, sparking outrage in from the boy’s family and others who accused Panhandle officials of a cover-up.
McNeil took over as head of the Department of Juvenile Justice during the prolonged investigation into Anderson’s death.
The inmate complained that he could not continue the exercises about 2:30 p.m. when the temperature was 86 degrees, McNeil said. Three medical staff put the inmate on a stretcher, iced him down and he was later transported to a hospital, he said.
Anderson’s parents ultimately received a $5 million payment from the state for their son’s death.
McNeil said he contacted the Tallahassee leader of the NAACP early this morning in part due to “being hypersensitive to what’s taken place in our state” with Martin Lee Anderson.
The case “certainly played a role in my perception and my heightened sensitivity,” McNeil said.
Landry said NAACP leaders are pleased thus far with McNeil’s response to the inmate’s collapse.
“We are going to stand by and wait for the outcome of that investigation. We have a lot of belief in the secretary,” Landry said.
McNeil’s relationship with the NAACP dates back to his tenure as Tallahassee police chief prior to his appointment by Crist as head of DJJ.
“He has shown a commitment of zero tolerance of anybody doing any abuse, especially to children, under his care,” Landry said.