Lawsuit Over Poor Conditions In Broward Jails Ending After 40 Years!





Charles Dickens understood the court system.

A key element in Dickens’ novel Bleak House was a generations-old inheritance lawsuit Jarndyce and Jarndyce.  After the book was published, the imaginary case became a watchword for a never-ending legal proceeding.

Broward County has its own Jarndyce and Jarndyce.

But Broward’s seemingly endless lawsuit over the ill treatment of jail inmates appears to be reaching an end after 40 years.

Let me write that again: After 40 years!

Gerald Ford was president when the suit was filed.  Rueben Askew was governor and there has been eight governors since that time.

When the suit was filed, the current main jail was a decade away from construction.

The jail was being run at the time of the suit by Sheriff Ed Stack, who later became a member of Congress.  He was followed by seven sheriffs.

No doubt, none of the original inmates who sued are still in the jail because it holds mostly those awaiting trial or convicted of minor crimes.

Federal District Court Judge Donald Middlebrooks wasn’t even a federal judge when the case was filed. Now Middlebrooks is moving towards putting the case to rest.

On Dec. 1, Middlebrooks entered an order granting final approval of a settlement agreement.




Broward County Jail, downtown Fort Lauderdale


The ruling ironically came the same week the Sun-Sentinel began a highly critical series on health care problems in the jails. The articles did not mention the proposed settlement.

The original 1976 lawsuit was filed on behalf of past, present, and future Broward jail inmates. The suit alleged constitutional violations resulting from overcrowding, safety and comfort issues, a lack of medical care, and a failure to provide opportunities for religious services or counseling.

Inmates sought declarative and injunctive relief, damages, and attorney’s fees.

The suit moved slowly, no doubt earning thousands for lawyers.

Finally in 1994, the county signed a consent agreement acknowledging that jail conditions were unconstitutional. Under the agreement, Federal District Judge William Hoeveler, who has since retired, would oversee jail operations. Hoeveler enforced a population cap and conditions at the jails were periodically monitored.

Among the provisions included in the 1994 agreement were a promise to adhere to state jail standards and use force “only as a last resort” and that “mentally ill inmates who present a threat to themselves or others shall be supervised by documented sight checks…shall not be housed in a single occupancy cell unless observed continuously.”

In 2004, another agreement narrowed the scope of the case. The agreement dismissed the medical claims altogether and limited continued monitoring, inspection, and judicial oversight over mental health services, inmate rules and discipline, inmate safety and security, overcrowding, and inmate access to religious publications and services and access to legal materials.

On Dec 1 and after yet another set of hearings, Judge Middlebrooks signed an order granting final approval of the settlement. The ruling came after an expert witness selected by the Court inspected the Broward jails and deemed them to be among the best run large systems he ever visited.

The tentative agreement has a big string attached. Two mutually selected experts now will investigate whether violations of inmate rights have ended.

The experts are Dr. Kathryn Burns, the chief psychiatrist for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, and Michael Berg, a 38-year veteran of jail management including Chief of Jails for Duval County and various positions in the Florida Department of Corrections.

Burns and Berg will tour the Broward jails, talk to inmates and lawyers and determine whether everything is constitutionally kosher. If problems are found, the two experts will propose a solution.

Once this is completed – there is a one-year timetable – Middlebrooks must approve any plan to remedy any violations that are found. He has then promised to finally dismiss the suit.

The jail population today is 3,762, which is 76.5 percent of capacity. Thus overcrowding does not appear to be an issue.

This lower jail population is despite closing one facility.

The suit settlement agreement contains the language which no doubt is of particular interest to the two plaintiff’s attorneys – one from Cocoa Beach and the other from the American Civil Liberties Union Washington office:

“The Court shall determine and award attorney’s fees and litigation costs to Plaintiffs’ counsel.”






7 Responses to “Lawsuit Over Poor Conditions In Broward Jails Ending After 40 Years!”

  1. Sober as a Judge says:

    Let’s see. Who do I believe?
    Do I believe the Sun Sentinel’s account which cite conditions of how the jails were years ago?

    Or a federal judge and his panel of court appointed professional experts certifying that today the jails are run properly. One of them going so far as saying Broward is among the best run jail systems he’s ever seen. Resulting in an end the nation’s oldest jail consent decree. Without much if any objection from anyone.

    No brainer.

    Thank you to Sheriff Israel and BSO. After years of inaction it took you guys to get this job done right.

  2. zigy says:

    it was another lawyers relief bill there are so many of them today they need to be paid somehow. the jail is more thsan fine

  3. Count LF Chodkiewicz Chudzikiewicz says:

    The Sun Sentinel looks worse n worse as they cut staff n corners

  4. Retired LEO says:

    Sheriff Israel does it again! He is proving to be the best sheriff bar none in Broward’s history.

  5. Roesch 4 Broward County Sheriff says:

    I thought jail is designed to punish bad guys? Anyway, John Hammond was a childhood friend who committed suicide in a Broward County jail. He hung himself. Wasn’t that long ago.



    This comment apparently refers to the John Hammond who hung himself in the Broward Jail in November 2009. He was 37-years-=old and had been charged with grand theft auto and traffic charges.

  6. rightwing says:

    the main jail was, and will never be perfect.but if you ask inmates who have spent time in jail in say, Jamaica, or the young man who toured the jail systems in Louisiana, and compared the mj to the ritz carlton, then its just fine. or the inmate who been in and out many times, and still was able to smile and say, “its still the cheapest hotel in broward county”. sun sentinel once again engaging in its usual yellow journalism..wouldn’t it be great to visit the sun sentinel work facility and point out all their flaws. typical garbage from the ny times wannabe.

  7. SAM FIELDS says:

    Buddy touched on the most important factor in bringing our jails out from the lawsuit. Getting the prisoner population down.

    One person who deserves much of the credit is County Court Judge Jay Hurley who was our first fulltime Magistrate Judge.

    Over forty years ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that when a person is arrested he has a right to see a judge within 48 hours of that arrest to make sure the police have filed the proper paperwork and to consider a reasonable bond.

    Until 2008 the job of First Appearance judge was rotated every week. That meant each judge would get the job once every 18 months. Furthermore, they were not relieved of their regular docket.

    Many had little or no experience with the criminal courts and all of them had a room full of lawyers awaiting them back in their regular courtrooms.

    The result was that all too often they would not touch the standard bond that came with the arrest. They would leave it to the trial judge who would see the defendant at Arraignment in two or three weeks.

    While many of those standard bonds were as little as $25, if you were poor or a street person it meant pleading to something you did not do or spending weeks in jail for public urination, trespassing, open container or shoplifting a sandwich from Publix.

    Let’s not forget the millions that this was costing the taxpayers to house these folks.

    In 2008 Judge Hurley was made our first fulltime Magistrate. He established a morning and afternoon magistrate court which greatly speeded things up.

    He adjusted bonds from the so-called “card rate” so that they made sense. Robbery was $7500 while 400 grams of cocaine was $500,000 made no sense.

    He would look into your background, review the facts of the charge, listen to witnesses about ties to the community and adjust the $$$ accordingly so that it was enough to assure that you would not flee the jurisdiction.

    Like any person, he had his own view of things. If you were arrested for violence or sex with children, the United States Treasury couldn’t print enough money to cover that bond.

    Within a year the jail population was down by a 1000. We were able to close one of the jails and devote those dollars to upgrading the remaining jails.

    That had as much as anything else in bringing our jails into compliance and ending the lawsuit.