Earlier this week, New Times broke the news that Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez recommends the construction of a nearly $400 million megajail to replace the county's crumbling detention facilities. The proposal took many people by surprise, including county Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz, whose turf includes the Village of Virginia Gardens, a small town of about 2,500 that abuts the planned jail site.
"This will not happen in my district," Diaz tells New Times. "I am very upset that nobody came to me when they released this report."
At a Virginia Gardens council meeting last night, Diaz told the community that Wednesday he spoke with a county official who promised him that a "report is just a report."
"Unfortunately, reports that are just reports turn out to be reality," the commissioner says.
Diaz describes most county reports as voluminous, but the jail proposal came in at a paltry three pages.
"This is something that was very targeted, very precise," Diaz says.
Next week, Diaz said his staff plan to file several public records requests to learn more about how the jail proposal came to be.
"I have already requested to the mayor to find any another location in the county to have this type of facility put in place," Diaz says.
Social justice advocates have also railed against the county's plans.
"Instead of addressing the needs of the people in this city, commissioners are now looking to add a fourth jail that will cost us hundreds of millions more dollars and put more people behind bars," says Quayneshia Smith, a regional organizer for the Miami Dream Defenders, an activist group founded after Trayvon Martin's death.
The group is running the campaign "Free the Block" to push for an end to pretrial detention in Miami-Dade. The Dream Defenders would rather see county leaders direct more funds toward jobs, housing, education, and mental healthcare instead of building a megajail.
"Most people that are in jail in Miami are poor people of color that can't afford to pay bail, not because they're dangerous," Smith says.
The Community Justice Project, a local advocacy group that connects disenfranchised communities with attorneys, has also questioned the county's need for a new detention facility.
"In the midst of climate and affordable-housing crises, it's unconscionable that Miami-Dade County is considering spending almost $400 million to cage people," cofounder Alana Greer says.
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Despite monitoring the agenda for weeks, we only found out that @MiamiDadeCounty is hearing new jail item b/c of the reporting of @MiamiNewTimes. This is not what democracy should look like. Ran over to mtg- still hoping we’ll have a chance to be heard.https://t.co/3zSla5wWCl— Community Justice Project (@cjpmiami) February 19, 2020
Greer says 79 percent of detainees in Miami-Dade jails have not been convicted of the charges for which they're being held. Instead, they remain locked up simply because they cannot afford to pay bail — a problem that disproportionately affects people of color.
And Greer says the proposal for a new jail assumes the county needs to maintain the current number of pretrial detention beds, which she believes is simply not true. She points to a 2018 American Economic Review study of Miami-Dade's bail system, which shows that each inmate released — rather than held on bond — would result in $55,143 to $99,124 in net economic benefit to the county.
Mayor Gimenez has yet to respond to an email from New Times about his memo, but the jail project will be up for discussion at the March 5 county commission meeting. The public is invited to sound off.