Jails releasing inmates to avoid becoming coronavirus hotspots

After a Broward County inmate died of COVID-19, jails in Broward and Miami-Dade are grappling with the possibility that they could become coronavirus hot spots.

MIAMI, Fla. – A jail in Chicago has recently been identified as the top U.S. hotspot for coronavirus, and experts say jails and prisons around the country can easily fall into the same issue.

Broward County has already had one inmate die from COVID-19, and public defenders and state attorney’s offices in Broward and Miami-Dade are working with judges to minimize jail populations.

Broward has released more than 2,500 inmates in just over a month and has about 500 fewer inmates than they did at the same time last year. Miami-Dade County said its in-custody population is down about 1,000 inmates compared to the 2019 average.

“As everybody knows, at the jail it’s very difficult to keep the physical distancing,” Miami-Dade public defender Carlos Martinez said. “About five weeks ago we had about 4,000 people in the jail. As of this morning, we had about 3,300, so we had a major reduction over the time period.”

Katherine Fernandez Rundle, Miami-Dade’s State Attorney, said: “It took everybody working together, understanding our different roles and trying to what is the right thing and the right thing for our community.”

The Broward County State Attorney’s office said in a statement: “Our focus has been on getting people released as promptly as possible — while ensuring that violent offenders and people who pose a threat to society are not released.”

According to the Broward Sheriff’s Office and the Miami-Dade department of corrections, all of their facilities are closely following guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control.

So far in Miami-Dade, no inmates have been diagnosed with COVID-19, but 22 corrections staff members have tested positive.

In Broward, the union representing BSO deputies working in detention centers says at least four of their staff members have tested positive. And Local 10 News has learned that seven inmates have as well.

“The jail is filled with a number of folks that have immune-compromised conditions. And the jail is an essential function that needs to maintain operation,” Broward’s chief assistant public defender Gordon Weekes said. “You cannot bury your head in the sand and think that COVID-19 is not going to have an impact on the jail. Our office worked very closely with the chief judge and created an emergency docket to address folks that were either going to be immune-compromised or charged with non-violent offenses.”

Attorneys of the inmate who died in Broward, Alan Pollock, did try to get him released before he ended up in the hospital. But that motion was denied because of the 64-year-old sex offender’s long history of not showing up to court when he was told.

About the Author:

Ian Margol joined the Local 10 News team in July 2016 as a general assignment reporter. Born in Miami Beach and raised in Broward County, Ian is thrilled to be back home in South Florida.