After a decade, Miami-Dade jails finally meeting U.S. Department of Justice demands

After a decade of federal monitors faulting Miami-Dade County jails, inspectors say the Corrections Department has met all demands set by the U.S. Department of Justice in a 2013 lawsuit against the county over how inmates were treated.

At a court hearing Friday, federal lawyers and Miami-Dade agreed the county jail system was ready to enter the final stage of the oversight process: proving it could maintain acceptable conditions for another 18 months.

“Compliance means sustainability over a period of time,” U.S. District Court Judge Beth Bloom said at the hearing, where Mayor Daniella Levine Cava joined county lawyers at the defense table.

READ MORE: Harsh words from a court monitor watching Miami-Dade jails

Federal civil-rights lawyers sued Miami-Dade in 2011, alleging the jail system provided shoddy mental-health care for inmates and wasn’t taking the right steps to prevent suicides behind bars.

That case resulted in a 2013 order, known as a “consent decree,” that imposed an improvement plan on Miami-Dade jails under the supervision of court monitors. Miami-Dade Corrections houses about 4,000 people on an average day and plans to spend roughly $480 million this year — almost all of it from property taxes and other local funds.

Four inmate suicides in 2022, along with seven other inmate deaths, raised doubts of Miami-Dade’s ability to comply with the consent decree. But with progress on mental-health treatment, safety protocols and other improvements, the court-appointed monitor said in August that Miami-Dade is for the first time meeting all the terms of the consent decree.

“The monitoring team is honored to formally report a highly successful transition process that has yielded numerous positive results,” the monitor report read.

County lawyers this year reported one death: an inmate who committed suicide in March.

The monitor language was a sharp change from similar reports just a year ago from a prior court-appointed monitor who ended up resigning after citing intense frustration with Miami-Dade Corrections in the summer of 2022.

At Friday’s hearing, Levine Cava, a lawyer and former social worker, said improvement at the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation took far more attention than she expected after taking office in 2020 after six years as a county commissioner. She removed the prior Corrections director and brought in a retired sheriff from Idaho who specializes in jail reform, Gary Raney, to oversee compliance.

“When I ran for mayor in 2020, I did not know Corrections would be a passion project for me,” Levine Cava told Bloom. She said her goal was to have county jails deliver “compassion and humanity” and said she was proud to see the court monitors’ conclusions.

“For us, it’s a good day,” Levine Cava said. “We have worked really, really hard to come into full compliance.”