Civil Rights Groups File Lawsuit Demanding Better Conditions in Broward County Jail

Despite repeated calls from advocacy groups to improve its conditions, the county jail has refused to implement the changes necessary to keep those in its custody safe from COVID-19. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

Submitted by Gaby Guadalupe, Westside Gazette

BROWARD, FL – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), ACLU of Florida and the Disability Rights Florida filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of individuals being held in dangerous conditions in Broward County Jail that threaten to speed the spread of the coronavirus among prisoners and staff. The lawsuit demands that the Sheriff’s Office immediately release medically vulnerable prisoners to home confinement or under other conditions so that their already heightened odds of contracting the virus and falling deathly ill are not exacerbated.

The lawsuit demands that the Sheriff’s Office cease acting recklessly with the health and safety of those individuals who remain incarcerated by following basic preventative and containment procedures such as providing prisoners with appropriate and adequate cleaning supplies, soap, and sanitizer; housing them in a manner that permits social distancing and protects the medically vulnerable; medically isolating symptomatic and COVID-19 positive individuals; properly screening and quarantining newly admitted or transferred prisoners; waiving prisoner fees for medical calls; and providing accurate and reliable tests for COVID-19. If these conditions are not met, the lawsuit asks the court to appoint a medical expert in public health and prison conditions to set criteria to determine who should be released from the facility.

“Even though parts of the state are reopening, it does not mean that the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks in jails has vanished,” said Benjamin Stevenson, staff attorney at the ACLU of Florida. “Broward County Jail has failed to adjust its facilities to health guidelines during this pandemic. The people in their custody remain at high-risk and are subject to living in these unconstitutional conditions.”

Despite repeated calls from advocacy groups to improve its conditions, the county jail has refused to implement the changes necessary to keep those in its custody safe from COVID-19.

“The ACLU has had litigation at the Broward County jail for more than a quarter of a century due to unconstitutional conditions in this jail,” said Anjana Samant, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project. “During a pandemic, the crowding and conditions at the Jail become extraordinarily dangerous — for the people incarcerated there, as well as for the staff, their families, and their communities. We urge the court to take swift, urgent action here to mitigate the risk and save lives. There is no time to waste.”

Broward County is one of Florida’s coronavirus disease epicenters, with the second-highest number of cases in the state behind Miami-Dade County.

“Many individuals with disabilities are particularly medically vulnerable to serious injury or death due to COVID-19, may not be able to avoid close contact with others due to care needs related to limited mobility, and may have difficulty understanding or practicing preventative measures such as wearing a mask or maintaining a safe distance from others,” said Disability Rights Florida Senior Staff Attorney Curtis Filaroski. “It is crucial that Broward County Jail drastically alter its practices to protect this particularly vulnerable community.”

The complaint can be found here: https://www.aclufl.org/sites/default/files/001_barnett_v._tony_petition-complaint.pdf

The press release can be found here: https://www.aclufl.org/en/press-releases/civil-rights-groups-file-lawsuit-demanding-better-conditions-broward-county-jail

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