DIRE CONDITIONS INSIDE BROWARD COUNTY JAILS AS PANDEMIC RAGES
As South Florida continues to see record high numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths, the conditions inside Broward County jails are dire. Despite a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on June 5, prisoners who are calling the COVID-19 Hotline for Incarcerated People (CHIP) report that they face the same conditions that led to the lawsuit — or that conditions are getting worse. These failures by Broward County include grossly inadequate personal protective equipment, extreme medical neglect, threats of retaliation against prisoners seeking medical care, and failure to properly quarantine or isolate deputies and prisoners who are suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases. The jails remain crowded, making social distancing impossible, and there are still too many people inside the jails who have minor charges and/or health conditions that put them at high risk. Public health guidelines have been clear: decarceration is critical to preventing mass outbreaks centered around jails and prisons.
Repeatedly, prisoners describe that newly arrested individuals aren’t being properly quarantined for two weeks before being introduced into the general population of the jail. One prisoner told CHIP organizer Nikki Morse that, in light of the ACLU lawsuit, “there’s a lot going on that the jail is trying to hide because they are afraid that the constitutional violations will get out.” After describing how elderly prisoners and those with comorbidities like asthma aren’t being adequately protected from COVID-19, he also said that the jail’s healthcare system is so overwhelmed that other critical medical needs are being neglected. “I’ve been in prison before,” he told Morse, “and this is way worse than prison. This here is cruel and unusual punishment.” This is particularly concerning given that, unlike prisons, jails predominantly hold people who have yet to be convicted of a crime.
According to P. D., a prisoner who asked that his full name be withheld for his protection, Broward County Main Jail isn’t testing for COVID-19 when people are arrested. Additionally, the normal physicals that accompany intake are also being curtailed. Instead of TB, HIV, and other tests, newly arrested individuals are only having their temperatures checked. Then, they are mixed in a large group of about 25 people for 14 days. However, despite the appearance of quarantine, individuals in this large group come and go to court appearances, while deputies and other inmates on work assignments also come in and out of the “quarantine” unit. P. D. reports that cleaning is ineffective and inconsistent, and doesn’t match the protocols that were previously in place within Broward County jails. Furthermore, he reports that jail staff continue to work in close proximity to each other and to prisoners even when they have tested positive, adding: “This facility gets millions of dollars for care, custody, and control they could do better for us.”
Routine medical care is being neglected at alarming rates, and detention staff are retaliating against prisoners for asserting their rights. One prisoner who asked that his name be withheld shared that in late July he faced a disciplinary report and was transferred from facility to facility in retaliation for contacting the ACLU. He reported that his medications are being delivered inconsistently and that he is being given medications that are not safe when taken together. Another prisoner described having his HIV medication delayed or withheld, and delivered inconsistently, even though he alerted medical staff immediately about his condition upon intake. Because his medications are not being provided correctly, he has to discuss his medical condition with staff almost daily, often in front of other staff and other prisoners.
Despite the fact that public health recommendations indicate that no one should be jailed for minor infractions during the COVID-19 pandemic, prisoners report that many people are being arrested for violations of parole and failure to appear, charges which do not necessarily indicate safety risks for the wider community. According to a prisoner who asked to go by the initials T. B., he was rearrested after returning home a little late from a substance abuse recovery meeting. He is far from the only person in Broward County jails facing the real risk of a fatal or debilitating illness as the result of a curfew or other technical violation.
For 5 months, prisoners have been on lockdown, meaning that they are in their cells for 21-22 hours a day, with no access to fresh air or the opportunity to exercise. This has significant consequences for people with respiratory conditions, like asthma. Many prisoners have these conditions, which increase their risk for contracting COVID-19. Prisoners report that it is hot and stuffy inside the jail, and that the black mold problem in Broward County Main Jail is getting worse. The lack of ventilation aggravates asthma and other respiratory conditions, leaving prisoners all the more vulnerable to the virus.
CHIP is not only collecting reports, but is also taking action this week to demand improved conditions. According to CHIP volunteer Melissa, prisoners in the North Broward Bureau are reporting that when an individual is suspected of having COVID-19, they are simply removed from the unit, but the unit itself is not cleaned, and the people who were in contact with the individual are not being tested. Prisoners are required to use the same disposable masks for up to two weeks at a time, and after a sick individual is removed from the unit, they are not being supplied with new masks. After receiving similar reports from numerous callers, CHIP is asking volunteers and interested community members to contact Broward Sheriff’s Office and the Broward County jails with the following demands: deep cleaning of all units with suspected COVID-19 cases, new masks for all prisoners, and COVID-19 testing for all. For more information, see https://www.facebook.com/CHIPsouthflorida/.