Because of positives in the jail, bond hearings and pleas are cancelled for today …
Sent by Jeff Marcus at 12:06 PM, lending credence to rumors there have been exposures in First Appearances, and possibly signs of infection may be present in at least one case …
We’re told members of the PDO and SAO may have been exposed, while selflessly conducting their duties. Updates as information becomes available.
In the meantime, here is the unedited version of the op-ed by Howard Finkelstein, Gordon Weekes, and Eric Balaban published in the Sun Sentinel earlier today.
The emphasis below is ours.
The Broward County Jail is A COVID Time Bomb. While citizens in Broward County hunker down and abide by federal and state guidelines to practice social distancing as the one viable means of containing the spread of COVID-19, thousands of fellow Broward residents do not have that option: those confined in and working at the Broward County Jail.
As of today, the Broward Sheriff’s Office has announced that two individuals who are in custody were diagnosed with COVID in the past two days. Those numbers threaten to rise rapidly. Our nation’s jails have become incubators for the virus. In Chicago, the Cook County Jail had two confirmed cases of COVID a week ago. By Sunday, 101 inmates and a dozen employees had been stricken. In New York, the nation’s epicenter for the COVID outbreak, the number of COVID infections rose from 1 to nearly 200 in twelve days.
Though Broward jail officials are taking measures to detect those with suspected COVID, and to isolate and treat them, they are battling very long odds that they will be able to prevent COVID from entering and then spreading throughout the Jail. Practices employed to stop the spread of the virus—maintaining a safe distance from other people, frequent hand washing, sanitizing all commonly use surfaces—are nearly impossible to implement. The Jail is also home to hundreds of men and women who are at heightened risk from COVID by reason of their age, and of their having other medical conditions (immunosuppressive conditions like HIV, pulmonary disease, heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses) that render them particularly vulnerable to COVID infection. This is in addition to the hundreds of jailed men and women who suffer from serious mental illness that impairs their ability to attend to their own self-care, and renders them particularly vulnerable as well.
Once COVID is introduced at the Jail, the hundreds of guards and civilian staff who work there will also be at elevated risk. They then will become possible carriers to extend the spread of the virus to their home communities. There is no reason to believe that the spread of COVID inside the Jail will be contained there.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued COVID guidelines for correctional facilities that address prevention, detection, and treatment of the virus. These Guidelines, however, will be incredibly difficult to administer if the Jail and county as a whole are overrun with cases. For example, the Guidelines recommend isolation of all known and suspected COVID cases, which will overwhelm jail staff should there be multiple outbreaks. Likewise, the Guidelines require that jail staff be equipped with adequate personal protective equipment (PPEs), which are already scarce and will grow more so once the county and its hospitals must address an influx of confirmed COVID cases. Implementing the Guidelines will further strain the already stretched resources of the Broward Sheriff’s Office. A week ago, four Broward County Sheriff’s Office staff tested positive for COVID. 103 additional staff members were then forced into self-isolation. These disruptions in the available workforce will make it virtually impossible to manage an outbreak in the jail facilities.
Across the country, public officials have begun to take steps to reduce jail populations. In Broward, chief judge Jack Tuter issued two administrative orders releasing weekend and furlough-sentenced prisoners, and ordering expedited release hearings for pretrial detainees. As a result, the jail’s population has been cut by about 15%. Sheriff Gregory Tony has given instructions to his patrols to cite and release in lieu of arrests that have contributed to jail admissions being cut roughly in half.
Despite these efforts, the jail still holds some 3,400 men and women. It is still processing dozens of new bookings daily.
In the end, much more must be done now before COVID takes hold. First, the Sheriff must be given the authority to release prisoners who do not pose a high public safety risk. The Sheriff has this power under a standing administrative order in the event of a hurricane or other natural disaster, and COVID poses a comparable, if not a greater, public health risk. Second, all prisoners being held on non-violent charges should be released. Third, vulnerable populations must be released to the furthest extent possible. Fourth, bail should be suspended for all new non-violent arrests—there is no reason that someone should be held in the jail by reason of their inability to pay. Finally, the jail must be stocked with sufficient PPEs for its staff to implement CDC Guidelines and to prevent the spread of COVID from the jail to other areas of the county.
The Broward County Jail represents a present threat to all citizens of the county. The jail must be depopulated to the furthest extent possible before tragedy strikes, and then spreads.
UPDATE – 10:08 AM– First Appearances is live, with Defendants heard, but not seen by the public, although it seems the judge and attorneys can see video …
Jails are rumored to be on lockdown. We just received a report from Conte that inmates are confined to their cells 23 hours a day. More information on jail situation should be coming soon.
First Appearance video is down, due to “technical issues,” but apparently First Appearances will now be done by ZOOM from the day rooms close to the individual cells where inmates are housed to further restrict movement throughout the jail system.
There is an ongoing push at the highest levels to release already sentenced non-violent offenders under emergency powers, and direction at the SAO for ASA’s to make “generous” offers on open cases.
And this just out:
County Commissioner Nan Rich’s office did a little digging over our request to authorize the Sun Sentinel to broadcast emergency bond court and pleas, and responded as follows:
Stay tuned? …
The BSO Public Information Office is currently working a developing incident regarding a positive COVID-19 inmates located at: N/A.
Public Information Officer Veda Coleman-Wright is currently gathering the details. Here’s what we know so far:
An inmate who was housed at the Broward Sheriff’s Office North Broward Bureau has tested positive for COVID-19.
The inmate’s identity and arrest details are being withheld in order to protect his right to medical privacy. When the inmate was arrested in March, he was medically screened during booking and showed no signs of COVID-19.
On March 31, during a routine screening, the inmate refused a medical test (not related to COVID-19) recommended by healthcare staff. As a result, he was transported to the hospital for evaluation and treatment. At the hospital, he was tested for COVID-19 and confirmed positive on April 1.
After being notified of the inmate’s status, the housing units where he has been were placed in quarantine as a precaution. Medical staff will continue to monitor the inmates for any signs and symptoms of COVID-19.
The Department of Health (DOH) has been notified. Staff who were in contact with the inmate have been notified and are being advised to self-isolate, self-monitor and contact the DOH for further instructions. The arresting officer who works at a police department in Broward County has been notified as well.
As of this writing, the Department of Detention has been notified a second inmate tested positive April 2. Details from today’s positive case will be released when available.
Arrangements are being made to decontaminate affected areas.
This information should be considered preliminary, and as with any developing situation, the details may change.
2:47 PM CONFIRMED – TWO POSITIVES IN JAILS
UPDATE UPDATE 2:39 PM – A BSO Press Release is coming soon …
UPDATE – we’re told only Main is operational for video bond court at this time …
2:07 PM – Information is sketchy, but after days of rumors we’re told judges and others are being informed there are positives in the jail and that shutdowns are imminent.
THIS IS STILL UNCONFIRMED.
In the meantime, the broadcast of court is down, so there is no live update available …
The law says these hearings are open to the public and they must be, and I know if the public can see what our judges, prosecutors and public defenders are doing in this unprecedented crisis they would be proud of their justice system.
Howard Finkelstein, on the need to broadcast emergency bond court and plea hearings to the public.
Thanks to Anonymous at 8:22 AM, who posted the following this morning:
We checked around, and it’s apparently true. Yesterday’s welcome transmission of afternoon bond court and pleas was done in error. Jack Tuter, or whoever else may be authorized to give the good folks at the Sentinel the green light to keep afternoon court in the sunshine, has still not done so.
We will be approaching the County Commissioners next, seeing as how Tuter or Court Administration has blocked email communications with JAABLOG. In any event, thank you to the Sun Sentinel for yesterday, and for proving the afternoon broadcast is as easy as flipping a switch, and leaving it on …