MIAMI HERALD ‘I almost died in there’ (3/17/21)

” … In the year since COVID struck, the Broward jail system has had 378 detainees and 323 staffers test positive.

The Miami-Dade Department of Corrections has had more cases and was less forthcoming with data. After numerous requests for information over more than a week, spokesman Juan Diasgranados said the jail would not provide the cumulative number of positive tests for detainees or staff, even though the facility is responsible for providing the healthcare of those it detains. Diasgranados would say only that the current tally of active cases is 30 detainees and 64 staff. Diasgranados said “less than five” detainees have died of COVID, but would not provide a specific count.

The Herald obtained more specific information from a different agency: Jackson Health System. The county’s public hospital network, serving the poor and the incarcerated, among others, said Miami-Dade jails have had 1,864 detainees and 846 staffers test positive since the virus manifested itself. Jackson placed the death count at three.

Diasgranados said high case counts in the early stage of the virus were due to a “proactive” approach to testing asymptomatic detainees. Broward, in contrast, has apparently not focused testing on detainees without symptoms ...

Complaints prompted a class-action lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, which has resulted in a settlement not quite finalized because of the multi-phased procedure for completing such litigation. Provisions, some of them already implemented, include expanded COVID testing, rules barring COVID-negative detainees from being housed with positive detainees, and giving medically vulnerable detainees twice-daily temperature checks …

Background“ACLU v. BSO” (6/5/20)


New Times – Judge’s Gambit (2008)

Broward courts are set to reopen next week for in-person Final Violation of Probation (FVOP) trials. Witnesses and attorneys must appear in-person, while friends, family, and observers will only be permitted to attend via Zoom.

Status hearings are being held this week, with the easy to fix cases, mostly those not designated as VFO, for “Violent Felony Offender,” getting resolved to county time or reinstatements of supervision, just as they’ve been for months now on the regular in-custody Zoom division dockets.

The problem, of course, remains the VFO qualified offenders, those individuals with qualifying offenses they’re on probation for, or have as priors, even if they’re old. VFO is a deceptive term; it’s possible, and common, for someone who has never thrown a punch, or having committed a violent act a long, long time ago, to be held as VFO, even if they’re on probation for a non-violent charge. The majority of the cases being set for trial next week seem to involve VFO’s accused of “technical” violations of the type highlighted in the Gardiner article above, not involving new arrests while on probation. Since the pandemic started, the SAO and many judges have been resistant to stating that many of these Defendants are “not a danger to the community,” the requirement to a VFO being spared prison and put back out onto their original probationary or modified new terms. This has caused a backlog in the jails and, it’s believed, jumpstarted the need for the extremely short-noticed FVOP reopening next week.

The status hearings we’ve observed thus far in anticipation of next week’s trials have yielded few surprises. As previously stated, the easy ones are being handled, while prison time is being doled out on others. Many stiff prison offers are being rejected, and those cases are keeping their previous haphazardly assigned trial dates for next week, since the judges don’t seem willing to state any type of position on dangerousness, preferring to wait until next week. Anyone hoping for more flexibility on behalf of the SAO under Harold Pryor in these situations, given the “technical” nature of most of the violations, are most certainly disappointed.

And now the main point: next week’s live-Zoomed trials offer a historic opportunity for anyone interested in criminal justice reform to easily witness how a large segment of the mass incarceration problem, specifically violations of probation of a technical nature, are traditionally handled in Broward County. There are, of course, plenty of serious offenders who have earned a trip to prison, but there are many others who may be sent up the river for long stretches that many believe shouldn’t be under a modern, reform-minded State Attorney.

Be sure to spread the word. A lot of things have gone down unnoticed in courtrooms across the country over the years that have contributed to the mass incarceration crisis that would shock the average layperson, but with Zoom, can now be easily observed from the comfort of home or office. It’s just about the only good thing we can think of coming out out of the pandemic, so if you’re committed to change, spread the word, and stay tuned here for dockets and Zoom links for next week’s Zoom FVOP trials …