In early 2020, as COVID-19 raged through South Florida prisons, Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation wanted to assess how to curb the spread of the virus.
One option — reopening the Miami-Dade Training and Treatment Center, a prison that has been closed since 2016 — was quickly rejected by officials overseeing the county’s prison system for the federal government because of the facility’s inability to “meet minimum constitutional standards for the confinement of detainees,” according to a memo from then-Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez.
But in January, as the omicron variant rolled through Miami, the county turned the jail into a COVID ward, sending at least 70 people to the facility to try to isolate contagious inmates.
Miami-Dade Corrections says the decision was only temporary and the jail commonly known as Stockade is empty again now that the omicron is fading.
However, inmates sent to the facility described disgusting conditions. And the decision to reopen the prison – and the possibility that it could once again be used to house inmates – has alarmed some criminal justice activists.
“To be in this situation (two years) later where the prison population is higher than it was pre-COVID and has resulted in the opening of a prison that has been disused for five years, I just think that this is a signal that we are headed in the wrong direction,” Maya Ragsdale, attorney and executive director of Beyond the Bars Miami, told the Miami Herald last month.
Juan Diasgranados, a spokesperson for Miami-Dade Corrections, told the Herald in an email that inmates at the prison were “equipped with ventilation, access to the outdoors and physical exercise, and positive leisure activities, such as knowledge-based games and books.”
He said the prison “also provides all inmates with meals, bedding, health care and access to hot water to ensure good health and hydration”, and added that corrections “have also implemented enhanced cleaning and sanitation processes at the training and processing center.”
But last month, five people held at the stockade told the Herald they were served inedible food and subjected to freezing temperatures and freezing showers. Other allegations, ranging from cracked and leaking ceilings to general uncleanliness, reflected findings from a 2011 Justice Department investigation that contributed to ongoing federal oversight of the county’s detention system.
“The showers have mold. The walls have mold. The AC vent has mold,” said a 21-year-old inmate who asked the Herald to protect his identity for fear of reprisal. “Half of us don’t even have blankets and they blew the AC. It is freezing cold here.
Gimenez’s 2020 memo mentioned that extensive and “prohibited cost” repairs were “necessary before the facility can be used to house inmates, even temporarily.” Diasgranados told the Herald that a wing of the prison with an upgraded boiler as well as new air conditioners, televisions and other appliances was still available for emergencies.
A spokesperson for Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, who succeeded Gimenez in late 2020, did not initially respond to a request for comment. After this article was first published online, the mayor sent the Miami Herald a statement expressing her commitment to corrections reform while explaining that the recent unprecedented surge of COVID-19 has caused them to reopen the Stockade.
“The latest outbreak of COVID-19 due to Omicron was unlike any other we have seen since the start of the pandemic and it required us to use all the resources at our disposal to ensure that those detained in our facilities were safe and could quarantine properly,” says Levine Cava. “We take these concerns very seriously and will review the conditions under which this group of individuals have been temporarily held at the overflow facility.”
Levine Cava added that the Internal Services Department responded to the hoarding on Monday to “ensure standards are being met” and “immediately address any shortcomings we find.”
The Justice Department did not respond to an email sent to its public affairs office.
WHAT IS STOCKADE?
Located on the outskirts of Miami International Airport, right next to the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center, the Stockade opened in 1953 and could house approximately 1,200 men. In 1984, through an expansion that introduced a dormitory-like setting, the National Institute of Corrections considered the Palisade a “model correctional facility” for its increased bed space and relatively low costs compared to a prison more traditional.
Time finally began to weigh on the prison. Once lauded for its sprawling design, the Stockade was closed five years after the DOJ in 2011 uncovered “a pattern and pattern of constitutional violations in Miami-Dade correctional facilities.” The stockade was specifically singled out for its rodent infestation, its outdated design that made cleaning difficult, and the layout of the sleeping quarters, which investigators say spawned prisoner violence due to correctional officers patrolling the hallways outside. exterior of the dormitory.
“I expected everything to change from all the stories I heard a long time ago, but obviously the system is still the same,” said Kwame Davis, a 23-year-old who was staying at the Stockade. . In addition to not being able to eat the meat served to inmates without vomiting, Davis added that he “didn’t feel safe” due to the lack of supervision.
“It makes me feel like,” Davis said, “nobody cares about us.”
Diasgranados told the Herald the use of the facility was temporary. Yet for Ragsdale, it’s impossible to ignore what she sees as a total political pivot from July 2020. At the time, an increase in diversion programs like house arrests — albeit in a separate effort to stop the spread of COVID-19 — had led the county-wide prison population to drop to just over 3,100. As of Feb. 6, the population was just below 4,400.