WEST PALM BEACH — On Feb. 15, Representative Omari Hardy (D – West Palm Beach) called for the Florida Model Jails Standards (FMJS) Committee to require inspections at Palm Beach County’s detention facilities no later than March 31. The FMJS Committee oversees the 93 locally operated jails in Florida. Such jails are statutorily required to adopt and uphold the Florida Model Jail Standards.
Florida Model Jail Standard 2.4 requires that jails, and their medical facilities, be inspected each year, no later than Dec. 31, by independent and certified inspectors. Reports for these inspections are to be submitted to the FMJS Committee each year. But on July 9, 2020, the Chair of the FMJS committee issued a memo suspending that requirement and allowing jail administrators to essentially self-report their compliance with the standards.
Representative Hardy obtained records from the FMJS Committee showing which facilities completed the inspections usually required by the FMJS and which facilities submitted “COVID memos” in lieu of those inspections. The records show that, in 2020, none of Palm Beach County’s detention facilities completed the usual inspections required by the Florida Model Jail Standards. Additionally, staff at Palm Beach County’s main jail confirmed to Representative Hardy in a phone call last week that the main jail’s last inspection occurred in May 2019, nearly 22 months ago.
Now, according to reporting by the Palm Beach Post, there appears to be an outbreak of COVID-19 in the main jail. In an article published Jan. 26, the Post reported that:• From the start of the pandemic last year to Jan. 11 this year, only 179 COVID tests were administered at the main detention facility.
• Between Jan. 11 and Jan. 25, just 304 additional tests were administered at the main facility. But 104 of those tests came back positive, indicating a positivity rate of over 34% at that facility.
On Feb. 10, 2021, Representative Hardy wrote Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw and asked him to take action to limit the spread of COVID-19 in detention facilities under his jurisdiction. Sheriff Bradshaw has not yet responded to Representative Hardy’s requests.
On Feb. 15, Representative Hardy wrote the Chair of the FMJS Committee – Sumter County Sheriff William “Bill” Farmer – and asked him not only to rescind his July 9 memo, which suspended the annual inspection requirement, but also to require that all 93 locally operated jails be inspected no later than March 31. In his letter, Representative Hardy stated specifically that there needs to be an inspection of the main jail in Palm Beach County.
Representative Hardy also issued the following statement:
• “Jails need more oversight during this pandemic, not less. The Florida Model Jail Standards Committee is the one entity responsible for providing that oversight. But the committee has not met in over a year. Nor has the committee devised new standards to guide jail administrators during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is very concerning.