Hell In Paradise - Miami-Dade County Jail
First in a 2-part look at Miami-Dade County Jail
It’s Tuesday afternoon at the Guilford Justice Center in downtown Miami, and a pressed young attorney returns from a trip to the judge’s bench to confer with his client.
“Look,” he tells his client, a young, clean-cut, All-American looking kid who had had an unfortunate run-in with Miami Beach police while here on vacation. “The prosecutor says if you plead now, they’ll let you out on bail pending your sentencing hearing. Otherwise, you plead not guilty and they’re gonna take you over to East Wing.”
The attorney looks over at the remainder of defendants waiting in the courtroom for their arraignments, then looks back down at his doe-eyed client.
“And you DON’T wanna go there.”
THE WORST ACCOMMODATIONS IN MIAMI
To anyone familiar with the Miami-Dade Corrections system, the words “East Wing” are said with a reverence usually reserved for concentration camps and Cuban dictators. Technically, it is the misdemeanor lockup for the Miami-Dade County Pre-Trial Detention Center just north of Downtown. But to many who have spent time inside, it is the definition of a frozen-over Hell. The unsanitary conditions, unruly inmates, unhelpful officers and arctic temperatures make this particular lockup an especially unpleasant place to stay.
East Wing is but one part of the Pre-Trial Detention Center, known to Miamians simply as DCJ (short for Dade County Jail). According to Florida Department of Corrections reports, Miami-Dade County has more average daily inmates than any other county in Florida. As such the county has not one but seven separate jail facilities. DCJ is the closest to the downtown courthouse, and therefore is where more people arrested on Miami Beach are brought for official booking. While it is not the most populous of Miami-Dade’s lockups (Metro West can hold over 2000 inmates at a time) it is the most notorious having been featured in recent documentaries on both the Discovery Channel and MSNBC. But if Miami has so many jails, what is it exactly that makes DCJ so particularly awful?
“THIRD WORLD COUNTRY” WOULD BE AN INSULT TO THE THIRD WORLD
“The biggest problem with DCJ is that it’s overpopulated,” says Brian Kennedy, a Miami defense attorney. “They just hold people there while they wait. Seeing people caged like that, it’s a life-altering experience.”
Jimmy Vaughn*, an inmate who has spend extended time at DCJ on multiple occasions, agrees.
“You could be in a holding cell with 30 other guys,” he says of the temporary facilities in East Wing. “There’ll be people lying on the floor, people lying under bunks, and that’s if you’re lucky.”
While a 2006 Corrections report lists the inmate capacity of DCJ at 1,400, the average daily inmate population is well over 1,700, according to the same department. That means on an average day the facility is housing almost 25 percent more inmates than it should. This not only means the jail; gets a little cramped, it doesn’t stay particularly clean either.
“THIS PLACE IS UNSANITARY, THIS PLACE IS FILTHY!”
Such is the declaration of inmate Edward Jones in the recent MSNBC documentary “Lockup: Miami-Dade.” His point is driven home in a following shot of another inmate whose arm is covered in some sort of mysterious dark brown rash. He claims when he came to DCJ, he was blemish free. Now, he says, he looks “like a leper.” And jail doctors won’t even tell him what’s wrong.
“There’s only two toilets, and sometimes you get urine seeping out of the toilet,” he says. “When you got people sleeping on the floor like they do, it’s quite disgusting.”
“You also get people in there who are drunks or whatever, and you get the smell of people vomiting frequently. If someone decides to fire one out, and the toilet clogs, you get that shit on the floor too.”
Old pieces of bologna also hang from the walls for weeks after they are discarded, as apparently none of the inmates ever get hungry enough to take advantage of this convenient food reserve. The problem is sometimes compounded by creative inmates who decide to place said slices of bologna (the DCJ diet staple, according to Vaughn) in the air ducts so the smell of rotten processed meat can be enjoyed by the entire cell.
The only reason the place is not as bad as it could be, says Rick Bryant*, another former inmate, is because the place is kept so cold.
NEXT....DCJ, where the only thing colder than the air is the population
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