TAMPA, Fla. — Democrat State Representative Dianne Hart of Hillsborough County is pushing for an Inmate Bill of Rights that would provide basic rights for inmates in Florida prisons.
House Bill 357 would establish a list of rights for people incarcerated in the state of Florida.
Rep. Hart says she believes inmates should have access to soap, feminine hygiene products, and toothpaste.
"We're treating people inhumanely, and that's not fair," said Rep. Diane Hart.
It would also push for set meal times as well as providing air conditioning for cells.
One former inmate who supports Hart's efforts is Edward West.
West is a special chemical operator who has been working for nine months at TSE, an adhesive company in Clearwater.
Prior to this job, West spent five years in prison for assault.
During his time in prison, West faced what he describes as tough conditions, he was mistreated frequently and felt like he was being treated like a child.
"It can break your spirit at times," he said. "You just don't know what to do with yourself. It's very hard."
In addition to verbal abuse, he dealt with limited time to eat and poor quality food.
West had to purchase his own soap, and there were times when inmates went days without bathing.
The cells were also without air conditioning despite the sweltering heat.
"You pray that they open up the yard so you can go get fresh air," he said.
West understands that inmates are in prison for a reason, but he believes that conditions could be improved.
The bill would also require the Department of Corrections to provide a written form of the rights to new inmates once they are in custody.
“Just because a person is incarcerated, doesn’t mean that they are not human," said Rep. Hart. "Everyone regardless of their incarceration status should be treated humanely and fairly. This bill creates a bill of rights so that those in the DOC’s custody are aware of what their rights are."
The bill is still in the house and in the hands of the Criminal Justice Subcommittee for review.
The Department of Corrections did not respond to requests for comment.