Sunday, July 3rd, 2022

Anxiety runs high among some incarcerated people

Enclosed spaces and a transient population of incarcerated people and guards make jails particularly susceptible to Covid-19 spread, a virus transmitted through air particles.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Florida and Disability Rights Florida sued the Broward County Sheriff’s Office in June 2020, alleging conditions that could contribute to the spread of Covid-19, including a lack of comprehensive testing for those who enter the jail and those already in the jail.

“They’re not doing comprehensive testing at the jail when that’s really the only way to know who’s coming into the facility with Covid, and that’s the only way to treat people appropriately medically,” said Nancy Rosenbloom, a senior litigation adviser at the ACLU. “It’s impossible to do social distancing and all the other things in a crowded building where people aren’t allowed to leave.”

The class of incarcerated people and the Broward sheriff’s office reached a settlement agreement in November, and a federal court approved it in May. The settlement included directives on testing incarcerated people at intake and quarantining people who test positive.

But the jail did not initially follow the conditions of the settlement, the ACLU said. According to data Broward County Jail sent the ACLU, during one week in August, the jail only tested 173 of the 499 people who had entered the facility, or roughly 34 percent.

A representative of the Broward sheriff’s office said the jail “is meeting or exceeding its obligations under the settlement agreement and was doing so even prior to the filing of the lawsuit.” But data from the jail, sent to the ACLU as a condition of the settlement, shows it only recently started performing more comprehensive intake testing. A court hearing to enforce the settlement conditions has been set for Oct. 21.

Rosenbloom’s co-counsel Benjamin Stevenson, a lawyer with ACLU of Florida, said the upcoming hearing is necessary despite recent testing efforts at intake because the response to the pandemic should have been immediate and ongoing.

There have been concerns about flu outbreaks and the spread of other diseases before Covid-19, but most jails are county-run and health care protocols vary widely with limited state regulation. As a result, jails are often unregulated in health care protocol, resulting in delayed testing and other measures.–new.pdf–new.pdf

As the Broward sheriff’s office and the ACLU prepare for their Oct. 21 court date, Littman, who has been looking into Covid-19 jail and prison deaths, emphasized that Broward County Jail is not unique. What is notable is bringing this county jail, regulated by itself, to a place where the public and the court can see the impact of struggling to test within the jail.

“We really don’t know a lot about what’s happening in jails in general because they’re all their own little fiefdom,” Littman said. “These are places where we just don’t really know much of anything about, other than potentially through litigation.”,115218

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