For people accused of breaking the law, Duval County has a jail. But there is a jail within the jail – known as solitary confinement.
Technically, the 6th floor isolation block is reserved for dangerous inmates – people who pose a threat to themselves or to others.
But that’s not always the case. One local inmate has spent the past 10 months in solitary, and not for discipline reasons – a fact even the former JSO jail director calls unusual.
Quentin Mills is neither a choirboy nor is he a discipline problem. The Duval County Jail inmate faces a slew of charges, including attempted murder, aggravated assault and domestic battery. Since his arrest in 2015, he’s never been in a jail fight, and never threatened guards, other inmates or himself.
Yet Quentin Mills has spent the last 291 days in solitary, isolated 23 hours a day and denied visitors except clergy or attorneys. Neither order comes from jail officials. Instead, it comes at the behest of the State Attorney’s Office, the agency prosecuting him.
“He doesn’t get to see his mom, he doesn’t get to see his kids,” says his mother Latisa Kierce. “He doesn’t get to see anyone -- and nobody can give us an answer why.”
Prosecutor Peter Overstreet, who made the request to send Mills to solitary, declined to be interviewed for this story. In response to a motion by Mills’ attorney to end his confinement, Overstreet said it was necessary because Mills previously called witnesses to interfere with their testimony. (Prosecutors charged Mills with three counts of witness tampering.)
But Mills’ attorney Reggie Estell Jr. says it’s not that simple. Even in solitary, Mills is allowed to make calls during his one hour of liberty. “He is still using the phone, they are still giving him his privileges so he can still call people -- so there’s no reason to be in solitary confinement.”
Estell also finds it perplexing that the confinement request came from an outside agency. “Usually it’s JSO that controls the jails,” he says, “not the State Attorney’s Office. My problem is he’s been there so long, and it’s not serving a purpose.”
First Coast New requested Mills’ inmate file, including his movement and housing history. Neither contains any written record of the request to place him in solitary or deny him visitors. (The Jacksonville Sheriffs’ Office denied our request for his confinement history, saying it was a medical record, and not a public record.)
Former Jail Director Tara Wildes agrees the situation sounds “unusual.” She retired in March and didn’t specifically recall the Mills case, but says as a rule, confinement should be used sparingly – “typically no more than 30 days” – and only when an inmate’s behavior demands it. (Mills’ jail file does contain two disciplinary actions – for possession of a prescription pill, and a jail homebrew known as “buck.” But both incidents occurred after he was placed in lockdown.)
Asked about outside requests to place an inmate in solitary, Wildes says, “It happens, I won’t say that it’s uncommon.” But those requests should come with a good reason – and an endpoint if at all possible. “Solitary should be used sparingly, and only when necessary,” Wildes told First Coast News. “Solitary confinement is just very detrimental to an individual’s mental health, especially if it goes on for an extended period of time.”
In April, Estell filed a motion to return Mills to the general jail population, saying it constituted cruel and unusual punishment. Circuit Judge Linda McCallum denied the motion, saying, “I don’t see any reason to change the status quo.”
“It’s taking a toll -- you can hear it in his voice,” said his mother after a recent court hearing. “He didn’t look good today. There’s something mental going on. I’m very worried.”