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Mysterious Prison Deaths Now 10

The discovery of three more inmate bodies in prisons over the recent holiday weekend brings the total of suspicious in-custody deaths under investigation to 10, The Miami Herald reports. Florida Department of Law Enforcement is handling nine of them, and the FBI is looking into the other one, the Herald confirmed.

The state had not paid much attention to the string of deaths -- some involving prisoners who were severely mentally ill -- until Herald reporter Julie K. Brown began a series of reports. (Editor's note: Those who encounter a paywall can find part of the story on an open site here.)

The Herald reports that the FBI is continuing an investigation into the Suwannee Correctional Facility, where a riot broke out in October and  inmates attacked five prison guards.  In April, a 33-year-old prisoner died under mysterious circumstances at Suwannee, where inmates have long complained of abuse, violence and corruption.

Meanwhile, FDLE would not release information about the three new prison deaths over the Fourth of July weekend, other than where they occurred: two at Hamilton Correctional Institution and the third at Columbia Correctional, according to the Herald.  The cases come days after veteran Department of Corrections investigators filed a federal whistle-blower suit in connection with the death of an inmate in 2010 at Franklin Correctional Institution.

In a related story, The Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureaureports that nearly two years after another inmate died under suspicious circumstances, the DOC has yet to offer a reason for his death.  Frank Smith, 44, died Sept. 4, 2012, following a run-in with officers during a move from a prison hospital to his cell at Union Correctional Institution.  Ten employees, including an assistant warden, are on paid suspension over the incident, and have drawn nearly $700,000 in salaries while on leave.  The FDLE took over the case 21 months ago.

Also, DOC Secretary Mike Crews announced that he plans to travel to Miami to “accelerate” the investigation into inmate Darren Rainey’s death,the Herald reports.  Rainey, a 50-year-old mentally ill inmate, was found dead two years ago in a locked shower stall. Guards had left him under a cascade of  steaming water for two hours as punishment.

Originally founded in December 2006 as an independent grassroots publication dedicated to coverage of health issues in Florida, Health News Florida was acquired by WUSF Public Media in September 2012.