At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, one of the most dangerous places to be is in jail
MIAMI, FL – Recently in federal court, Advancement Project National Office, Community Justice Project, Inc., Civil Rights Corps, GST LLP, and Dream Defenders filed a lawsuit against Miami Department of Corrections calling for the release of vulnerable people inside the city’s jail and arguing that Miami’s Metro West Detention Center is risking the lives of everyone inside because of their deliberate indifference illustrated by their failure to respond to the threat of COVID-19.
This lawsuit seeks the immediate release of all medically vulnerable people from the Metro West Detention Center. For those who remain in the jail, the lawsuit asks a federal judge to order the City of Miami and Metro West jail to immediately adopt the comprehensive measures outlined by the Center for Disease Control to protect the safety and health of those people inside the jail.
“Metro West is a petri dish for the coronavirus. People are crammed together in dorm-style bunks, 60 people to a cell, without access to the basic things that we have on the outside. They have no hand sanitizer, no gloves, no ability to distance. On top of that, there are broken toilets and sinks, and dirty bathrooms with standing water,” said Maya Ragsdale, a movement lawyer with Dream Defenders. “We’re seeing throughout the country, from Chicago to New York City, that COVID-19 spreads like wildfire in jails. This is a ticking time bomb and officials in Miami must act now to release as many people as possible from cages.”
“I am trying my best to take care of myself during this pandemic, no different from you, no different from any other human being. But it’s impossible to do that at this jail. The cell is filthy and we have no access to hygiene products. Today [on April 3rd] I had to make a mask out of my yellow sock and an elastic string from my catheter bag. We are crowded together with no space between us,” said Anthony Swain, a 43-year-old man with paraplegia and cystic myelomalacia who is incarcerated in a medical unit at Metro West Detention Center. “Corrections treats us like we are the scum of the earth, like we don’t deserve protection.”
On a typical day, jails provide inadequate health care and are places that cause serious harm to the people confined there. Now, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the stakes are heightened.
“The prospect of a COVID-19 outbreak in Miami-Dade jails is a horrifying but imminent eventuality if we don’t take swift action to demarcate jails like Metro West, which continues to hold 1,820 people to this day. Failure to act would amount to a death sentence for some of the people held there, especially those who are medically vulnerable and practically incapable of protecting themselves from contracting the virus due to the conditions of the jail,” said Meena Jagannath, Co-Founder of Community Justice Project, a local non-profit justice legal organization supporting campaigns for racial justice and human rights.
If people incarcerated in the Metro West were to become infected with COVID-19 and the virus were to spread rapidly, many of the people incarcerated there would require urgent care, overwhelming the capacity of Miami’s Health Services and exacerbating the death toll and the risks to all involved. Swift action at the federal, state, and local levels will prevent the spread of COVID-19 inside prisons, jails, and detention centers, while having an enormous impact on the wellness of the rest of the country.
Thomas B. Harvey, Justice Project Director at Advancement Project National Office, explains that, “Judges have the power to protect public safety in the COVID-19 pandemic by releasing as many people as possible. We know that jails are incapable of providing adequate healthcare in general, let alone during an outbreak like we’re seeing today. People in the jail, those who work there, and the general public are at greater risk if we leave people inside than if we let them return home.”
“Based on everything we know, and everything we have seen so far, COVID-19 presents a serious risk to incarcerated people and once in the jail, will spread viciously,” said Alex Twinem, attorney for Civil Rights Corps. “Releasing people from cages is the fastest way to stop this crisis. Crowded conditions and close living quarters make following the CDC’s social distancing guidelines impossible. Ensuring people in jail have what they need for proper hygiene is also essential. Without action, it is only a matter of time before a catastrophic outbreak.”
Quinn Smith, managing partner for GST LLP, said, “We are honored to support our long-time partners, Community Justice Project, as well as the Advancement Project National Office and Civil Rights Corps, in this fight. We stand in solidarity with these organizations and with those who are currently incarcerated under clearly substandard conditions.”
In efforts to heavily pressure local and state governments to release people immediately, Advancement Project National Office and Dream Defenders have created advocacy tools as a call to action for #FreeAndSafe communities.
Advancement Project National Office is working with grassroots organizations as part of a national campaign to shine a light on the country’s reliance on incarceration and get communities to re-imagine public safety. In the case of this legal action, it is important to remember that people are released from jail every day to start again in society. This is no different.