BSO Acts In Violation of CDC Guidelines and ACLU Agreements
BROWARD COUNTY, FL – Months into the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, conditions in Broward County jails had become dangerous enough to attract the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Finally, at the end of 2020, a settlement was reached between Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO) and the ACLU to improve conditions. The COVID-19 Hotline for Incarcerated People (CHIP) ,a watchdog group, says COVID-19 safety is worse than ever, pointing to COVID-19 outbreaks which BSO fails to contain.
The ACLU came to a settlement with BSO in the Southern District of Florida Court in regards to their class-action lawsuit over COVID-19 violations in the county jails in December of 2020. Some of the listed agreements include maintaining social distancing, keeping COVID-19 positive people away from all other incarcerated individuals unless also tested positive, testing anyone who has been exposed to a COVID-19 positive person and more. According to 15 plus reports CHIP received in January 2021 alone from three different facilities, little to none of the settlement agreements are being honored, putting more lives at risk due to their overt negligence.
CHIP has recently received multiple reports of an outbreak of COVID-19 in the Paul Rein Detention Facility in units D4, D5 and D6. While at least three people are confirmed to have tested positive for COVID-19, CHIP has received reports of more than 29 cases currently in Paul Rein.
CHIP received information that after one person incarcerated at Paul Rein was confirmed to have contracted COVD-19, the jail did not test those who may have been exposed, even after they developed symptoms. According to reports it took six days for the initial COVID patient to receive testing, as correction’s officers disregarded his pleas for help.
This person and at least one other have been moved to the Broward Main jail as a result of Contracting COVID-19. CHIP has reported these issues to officials at the Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO) and has received no response or reports of containing this issue. During the Free Broward March on February 1st, people from the 5th floor communicated to the crowd in sign language that they had COVID.
Because no new incarcerated people have been moved in or out of the units, CHIP callers have reported that the only way COVID-19 could spread within the facility is if it were brought in by the corrections officers and medical staff. Paul Rein Detention facility confines incarcerated people to a specific unit. According to reports, the only people allowed to move between units are BSO staff and Wellpath medical employees.
Many callers from Paul Rein report that the lockdown is excessive, unnecessary, and tortuous. They explain that they are housed in an open air dorm, without solid doors confining the cells, making social distancing impossible. The lockdown serves as a way to make incarcerated life punitively more miserable, restricting all time spent out of a cell 1.5 hours a day, including the time it takes to eat, shower, and make phone calls.
Reports share that shakedowns, incidents where incarcerated individuals’ belongings are searched, may exacerbate the spread of COVID-19, as corrections officers do not change their gloves or other PPE as they move from cell to cell, unit to unit.
The jail has also shut off access to the drinking fountains, which means that all drinking water comes from shared bathroom faucets, which are also used by COVID-19 positive individuals.
Human rights and prisoner advocacy groups have been organizing around the crisis in Broward jails since early in the pandemic, using a variety of channels to try and amend BSO’s unsafe housing practices.
One caller, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation by jail staff told CHIP,
“This is just inhumane…the officers have no regard for human life!”