Miami-Dade County jails cited for 'shocking conditions'

MIAMI Mon Aug 29, 2011 7:44pm EDT

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MIAMI (Reuters) - The nation's eighth largest jail system in Miami-Dade County has used excessive force on inmates and given them inadequate medical care, results of a federal investigation showed on Monday.

The U.S. Department of Justice released the findings on Monday after a three-year probe into the Miami-Dade County Corrections and Rehabilitation Department, which houses an average of 7,000 inmates.

"Prisoners have suffered grievous harm, including death," said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the civil rights division. "The systemic failures of the jail facilities have resulted in prisoners living in inhumane and shocking conditions."

The Justice Department said the jail system was "deliberately indifferent to the suicide risks and serious mental health needs" of inmates. At least eight have committed suicide since 2007, officials said.

The probe also found that officers used excessive force, openly engaging "in abusive and retaliatory conduct, which frequently causes injuries."

The department did not provide adequate care to mentally ill prisoners and instead relied inappropriately on medication without considering diagnoses or treatment plans, the investigation showed.

The probe concluded that the system was indifferent to serious medical needs of inmates, who wait weeks or months for care from HIV, cardiology and neurology doctors, while providing inadequate initial health screenings.

Since 2008, at least five prisoners have died after not being treated for drug or alcohol withdrawal, the findings showed.

The investigation also cited unacceptable fire and safety systems at the jail and sanitation problems including inadequate laundry, housekeeping and pest control.

During one visit to a medical clinic, investigators found bags of biohazardous materials and trash stored in hallways unsecured and unattended. "The isolation cells in the clinic were filthy," the findings showed.

The government made a number of recommendations for improvements and said if conditions don't change, it may sue the county under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said in a statement he was deeply concerned about the findings and would review what progress had been made to deal with the problems identified.

Jackson Health System, which provides medical services at the county's six jails, said it was working with the county to address issues in the report. The mayor and Jackson Health officials said they were cooperating with investigators.

"Many changes have already been implemented since the DOJ site visits in 2008 and 2009, and our proposed budget for the coming year would address many others," the health provider said.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Cynthia Johnston)

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