Local and National Civil Rights Organizations Win Temporary Restraining Order to Protect the Health of People in Miami Jail Ahead of COVID-19 Outbreak
At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, one of the most dangerous places to be is in jail
MIAMI, FL – In federal court on April 7, Advancement Project National Office, Community Justice Project, Inc., Civil Rights Corps, GST LLP, and Dream Defenders, won a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) requiring Metro West Detention Center to follow the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) guidelines to protect the health of people locked inside and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Metro West is required to provide basic sanitizing items to the almost 2,000 people confined there, and also required to provide the organizations a list of all medically vulnerable people in the jail by Thursday, April 9, 2020, as the call to have them released remains urgent.
This win comes immediately after the groups filed a lawsuit against Miami-Dade Department of Corrections on April 4, to protect vulnerable people inside the jail, arguing that Miami’s Metro West Detention Center is risking the lives of everyone inside because of their deliberate indifference illustrated by their failure to respond to the threat of COVID-19.
“I am relieved that Judge Williams entered a TRO against Miami-Dade Department of Corrections, and I am hopeful that it will result in improved conditions for those suffering inside of Metro West, said Maya Ragsdale, an attorney with Miami-based Dream Defenders. “Yesterday, I received phone calls from people in Metro West who were coughing up blood but were provided nothing more than Advil and Vitamin C, and from people who hadn’t had access to laundry detergent for more than a month. We must not only improve sanitation, but we must get people out. Urgent action to release people from cages is necessary to prevent deaths from COVID-19 inside prisons, jails, and detention centers.”
“This is a great first step, but it’s clear that we need to secure release of, at the very least, medically vulnerable people who cannot protect themselves within a jail environment, no matter how many masks or cleaning supplies they are given,” said Meena Jagannath, Co-Founder of Community Justice Project, a local non-profit justice legal organization supporting campaigns for racial justice and human rights. “We will remain vigilant to ensure that Miami-Dade County follows the TRO requirements at Metro West, and hope the county implements them across all jails. Swift action is yielding swift results, and we won’t stop until we get the results that will save as many lives as possible.”
Once Metro West provides the names of medically vulnerable held in the jail, the organizations will push to get every single individual released.
“It’s promising that the federal court acted swiftly to ensure that people in the Metro West detention center have access to the basics needed to protect themselves in the midst of this public health emergency,” said Alex Twinem, an attorney with Civil Rights Corps. “It should not have taken a court order to ensure adequate COVID-19 testing is done in the jail, when we know that identifying cases is the most fundamental step in managing them.”
“Today was a victory for the people in Metro West Detention Center but we still have more work to do. We only have to look at Riker’s Island and the Cook County Jail to see what is coming to Miami-Dade County,” said Thomas B. Harvey, Justice Project Director at Advancement Project National Office. “Twenty days ago, there were no cases in either facility. Today, hundreds of people are infected, and several have died from the coronavirus, including people detained and guards. Miami-Dade County officials have a choice: immediately start releasing people to save their lives or watch while people die and the virus spreads to the broader community because of their indifference.”
“This is a solid first step in the court’s ruling,” said Quinn Smith, Managing Partner for GST LLP. “We’re calling on the legal community to support this cause in every way possible, and we look forward to continuing to support our partners and clients in their fight.”
In efforts to heavily pressure local and state governments to release people immediately, Advancement Project National Office and Dream Defenders have created advocacy tools as a call to action for #FreeAndSafe communities. Through a partnership with Ben & Jerry’s, Florida residents can use a call to action tool to urge state and local leaders to release community members from jails by.
Advancement Project National Office is working with grassroots organizations as part of its #FreeAndSafe national campaign to shine a light on the country’s reliance on incarceration and get communities to re-imagine public safety. In the case of this legal action, it is important to remember that people are released from jail each and every day to start again in society. This is no different.
Advancement Project National Office is a next-generation, multi-racial civil rights organization. Rooted in the great human rights struggles for equality and justice, we exist to fulfill America’s promise of a caring, inclusive and just democracy. We use innovative tools and strategies to strengthen social movements and achieve high impact policy change.
Civil Rights Corps is a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., dedicated to challenging systemic injustice in the American legal system.
Community Justice Project, Inc., is a Miami based group of community lawyers providing innovative legal and strategic support to social justice movements in Florida and beyond.
Dream Defenders is an organization of multiracial, young people in Florida founded in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s murder that are organizing towards a new vision for safety away from prisons.
Formed in 2016, GST LLP is an international dispute resolution firm with offices in Miami, Washington D.C., and a foreign law desk in London. The firm has represented global companies, governments, and private client parties in Latin America, Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean. GST been ranked among the top 100 international arbitration firms around the world by industry outlets like Global Arbitration Review. The firm’s areas of practice include Corporate Law, International Arbitration, Public International Law, International Litigation and Mediation.