Civil Rights Groups Representing People Detained at the Broward Jail Ask Court to Enforce its Order Requiring Health and Safety Precautions against COVID-19

Despite the Continued Surge of COVID-19 Cases, the Jail has Failed to Improve Health Conditions for its Staff and the Thousands of Incarcerated People in its Custody as Mandated by a 2021 Consent Decree

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
September 21, 2021 10:30 am

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, the ACLU, Disability Rights Florida, and Sullivan & Cromwell LLP filed a motion asking a federal district court to enforce and modify a class-action consent decree requiring the Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO) to improve COVID conditions for people currently detained in Broward County Jail.

The class of incarcerated people and BSO reached a settlement agreement in November 2020. In May 2021, a federal district court later approved it and ordered compliance with the agreement. The consent decree required BSO to improve conditions in the jail to protect over 3,400 incarcerated people from widespread infection. These measures include housing the medically vulnerable in a way that accommodates CDC-recommended social distancing, testing both incarcerated people and jail staff for COVID-19, quarantining those who either test positive for COVID-19 or come into contact with a positive case, and supplying incarcerated people with personal protective equipment.

Despite agreeing to the settlement in May 2021, BSO has not complied with many of its provisions and there is a growing outbreak of COVID-19 cases. Substantial evidence, including a medical expert’s report, sworn statements from people currently held at the jail, and BSO’s own admissions, shows that BSO, among other things, failed to implement testing as recommended by the CDC, failed to provide adequate symptom screening for the medically vulnerable, failed to provide sufficient unbiased education on COVID prevention (including information on vaccination), and failed to provide adequate PPE to incarcerated people and staff alike.

“Broward County Jail has had sufficient time to fulfill the provisions they agreed to months ago,” said Benjamin Stevenson of the ACLU of Florida. “Its failure to provide adequate health and safety measures has placed the lives of thousands of people in their custody at risk, most of whom are detained pretrial and have not been convicted of any offenses.”

In addition to asking the judge to ensure that BSO abides by the agreement, the settlement class also seeks to update the terms of the settlement to include provisions for vaccine distribution, to remedy the low levels of vaccination at the jail. Since the settlement was first proposed to the court, several vaccines were made available to the American public. In an effort to reach those hesitant about taking the vaccine and raise vaccination rates, the settlement class now asks that the court’s order include requirements that the jail regularly undertake active vaccination drives, and also offer non-punitive incentives to encourage vaccination participation.

“The Broward County Jail is not a safe place for the people who are forced to live there, especially without access to proper PPE or vaccines,” said Nancy Rosenbloom, a senior lawyer with the ACLU National Prison Project. “Jail leadership needs to step up and take urgent and badly needed steps to protect people locked up in crowded conditions in the jail from this deadly pandemic.”

The incarcerated population is increasingly at risk for death and serious injury because of COVID-19. Infection numbers continue to skyrocket in facilities all over the country, including at the jail. On July 18, 2021, BSO reported only one positive case of COVID-19 in the jail. On Aug. 18, one month later, BSO reported 36 positive cases. By Sept. 15 the number had grown to 180 positive cases (likely an undercount because of insufficient testing). Both detained people and staff are falling very ill, and some have died from the virus.

“The Broward County Jail continues to expose individuals with disabilities and medically vulnerable individuals to an unreasonable risk of contracting COVID-19,” said Curtis Filaroski, a senior staff attorney with Disability Rights Florida. “These individuals are particularly vulnerable to this virus, and we are concerned that even more people will die in the jail due to the Jail’s inadequate response to the most recent Delta variant outbreak. Serious action needs to be taken to comply with the provisions of the Consent Decree and protect these vulnerable populations.”

A copy of the motion can be viewed here:

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