BBC Documentary Spurs Investigation into Conditions at "Miami Mega Jail"
Extortion. Beatings. Stabbings.
When Louis Theroux: Miami Mega Jail first aired on May 22, the BBC documentary made it look like inmates -- not guards -- were really in charge of the Miami-Dade Pre-Trial Detention Center downtown.
Corrections officials say the documentary is misleading, but the scenes were disturbing enough for county commissioner Barbara Jordan to call for an investigation yesterday.
"I haven't even seen the entire video. I'm really frightened about what else is on there," Jordan said. "I don't want this to blow up in our face."
Jones called for the investigation during a Public Safety & Healthcare Administration Committee meeting.
"On this video I heard the inmates say that, for the weaker inmates, that they prey on them," Jones said. "That they not only prey on them, but in order to protect them, they basically extort them and their families, (forcing them) to send money into the jail in order to pay for protection. That is unbelievable and, to me, should be investigated."
Committee chair Jose "Pepe" Diaz countered that he had already called for an investigation, but his explanation was muddier than a Mitt Romney campaign promise.
"The administration is looking into certain things," he said. "The [Inspector General]'s office and some federal departments are already looking into this. We've had the grand jury that did some things. There are some issues going on."
A spokesperson for the Department of Justice did admit to Riptide, however, that there is an ongoing federal investigation into Miami-Dade's jails.
Department of Corrections Director Timothy Ryan, meanwhile, said the BBC documentary is one-sided and relies on inmates' sensationalized accounts of rape, murder, assault, theft, and extortion.
"I'm not going to deny that there are some things that go on (in the jail)," Ryan said. "They do happen. But to the degree that these folks are portraying, I don't think that's true."
"The inmates claim these things because it's easy," he said. "If you happen to be the guy when the camera walks by and you want to be perceived as powerful, you can say anything."
When Riptide pointed out that guards in the documentary readily admit on camera that extortion and beatings are common in the jail, Ryan claimed that his employees don't know what they are talking about either.
"It's kind of an interesting phenomenon among guards," he said. "They watch TV as well, as opposed to really looking at their professional environment and assessing it."
But the documentary doesn't just include interviews with criminals eager to brag about their bad-assedness. It also shows inmates -- all of them awaiting trial and, therefore, innocent until proven guilty -- with their faces smashed to pulp or afraid for their lives.
Here's part one of the documentary. You decide:
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Miami, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.