Statement: Miami COVID-19 Case Dismissal
In April, alongside our clients, we filed a lawsuit against the Miami-Dade Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (MDCR) for failing to safeguard the health and safety of people trapped inside the Metro West Detention Center during the growing COVID-19 pandemic. The lawsuit sought the immediate release of all medically vulnerable people and demanded that MDCR provide necessary protections for the human beings caged in the jail. After much discussion, the decision was made to voluntarily dismiss the lawsuit without prejudice. We have collectively decided with our clients to focus our attention on other efforts to release people from the jail and ensure that people locked inside are safe from COVID-19. This decision reflects both the urgency of the health crisis in the jails and the reality that we cannot rely on the legal system to fix this problem.
We fully believe that Miami-Dade officials, including MDCR Director Daniel Junior, are deliberately indifferent to the serious risks of harm to our clients caused by COVID-19. But we also know we cannot depend on this country’s legal system for justice.
When the COVID-19 pandemic reached the Metro West Detention Center, our clients bravely stepped forward to sue MDCR. Their experiences are normally hidden behind concrete walls and away from the public, but our clients boldly documented the filthy, crowded, and inhumane conditions inside the jail where they were trapped, at a time when no one else was paying attention. Risking the possibility of retaliation and exposure, they fought for everyone suffering inside the jail and they hoped the courts would recognize the importance of the moment by promptly releasing the sick and the elderly. Since the lawsuit was filed, at least three people have died from COVID-19 in MDCR custody and hundreds have been infected inside the jail, with many in need of medical attention and aid.
Our clients’ advocacy inspired community members to rise up against mass criminalization and incarceration, and to move towards investment into communities of color through protests and other actions. For the first time in our memory, calls for decarceration and decriminalization in Miami-Dade County became national headline news, and for a time, the jail population dropped significantly. Many of our named plaintiffs, as well as others, were released. Our clients and the organizers supporting them saved people from the horrible conditions of jails in Miami-Dade County.
The federal district court agreed that MDCR likely failed its constitutional duty to the people inside Metro West during the course of the pandemic, and it required MDCR to make certain changes. However, soon after, two judges on the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the federal district court’s decision. But the experiences of our clients, and of the many people incarcerated in Metro West, demand more.
While the case will not continue, as a legal team, we are honored to have represented the courageous people who spoke out, not only for themselves but for everyone who is continually being exposed to COVID-19. We will always remember, and be inspired by, our clients—including Anthony Swain and the thousands of people who raised money for his release. As the lawsuit ends, it is important to remember that COVID-19 is still spreading in jails, prisons, and detention centers at rates that far exceed the general population, and that MDCR persists in refusing to publicly report the infection rates inside its jails. We continue to support the demands made by incarcerated people, their families, and allied communities and organizers to decarcerate, and we continue to urge the release of all people during this deadly pandemic.