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Discussions to build a new jail in Miami-Dade are moving forward.
Discussions to build a new jail in Miami-Dade are moving forward.
Photo by Theo Karantsalis

Plan for New Miami-Dade Jail Moves Forward Amid Calls for Decarceration

In recent months, a proposal to build a new $400 million jail next to the Turner Guildford Knight Correctional Center (TGK) in Miami-Dade County has drawn opposition from residents and local leaders. Advocates for criminal-justice reform have expressed concerns about mass incarceration, while some elected officials worry about the effect the jail might have on nearby neighborhoods.

During a March meeting, county commissioners asked Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Director Daniel Junior to come up with a proposal for other potential sites for the jail. Now, amid local and national cries for decarceration and less policing, plans for the new detention center are slowly moving forward.

Commissioners gathered for a workshop yesterday to discuss Junior's new proposal, which includes five proposed locations for the jail and two potential plans for housing inmates.

New Times first reported on Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez's proposal for a new jail in February. The new facility is supposed to replace the Pretrial Detention Center, the county's oldest correctional facility, and will have the same 1,400-bed capacity.

The facility would also include a 556-bed intake and release center, a mental-health treatment center, a building for food and laundry, a video-visitation center, a medical clinic, four courtrooms, and office space for prosecutors, public defenders, Miami-Dade police, and the clerk of courts.

Junior told commissioners the plan is not about expanding the county's jail system.

"All this does is allow us to replace an aged jail, more than 60 years old," he said.

Commissioners who recently toured the Pretrial Detention Center said during the meeting that it was "falling apart" and that conditions in the building pose a safety hazard for inmates and corrections staff. Miami-Dade Corrections has been under a federal consent decree since 2013 to improve conditions for inmates and remedy constitutional-rights violations.

Junior's five proposed sites for the new jail: the current Pretrial Detention Center; the Juvenile Justice Center at 3300 NW 27th Ave.; the Metro West Detention Center in Doral; a piece of land at Krome Avenue and Southwest Eighth Street; and the originally proposed site of the county's former Training and Treatment Center next to TGK.

Building the new jail at the Pretrial Detention Center, the Juvenile Justice Center, or the Training and Treatment Center would require demolition of those structures, Junior told the commission. Metro West in Doral has eight to 15 acres of land that can be developed, and building out the Krome site seems more complicated because it would require deforestation and approvals from the Department of Environmental Resource Management and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Training and Treatment Center is the only property owned by Miami-Dade Corrections. The Pretrial Detention Center is owned by the Miami-Dade Police Department, and the other sites are owned by the state. Acquiring the land and permits for those properties could delay the project for a year, Junior said.

Junior also proposed two plans for housing inmates. Under the "consolidated" plan, the entire jail and all other structures would be built on one of the proposed sites. Under the "hybrid" plan, the facilities would be split between two properties. The 1,400-bed jail would be built on one of the proposed sites and the 556-bed intake and release facility, courtrooms, medical clinic, and offices would be built at the Training and Treatment Center next to TGK.

Regardless, construction is expected to take six to seven years. Although the initial cost estimate for the jail was $393 million, updated estimates show that the consolidated plan will cost $411 million to $429 million. The price tag for the hybrid plan would range from $415 million to $443 million.

Junior urged the commission to make recommendations for the location and discuss which plan would best fit the county's needs.

"The further we kick the can down the road, the downtown jail will continue to get old," he said.

Commissioner Jose Diaz, whose district includes TGK, said he prefers the hybrid plan over the consolidated building plan because it better accommodates emergencies. He said the COVID-19 pandemic has proven that several detention centers are necessary so the jail population can be spread out and inmates can practice social distancing.

"We can't put everything in one basket," Diaz said.

Some of the commissioners questioned how the county would pay for the new facility and how, if necessary, they would explain to voters that taxes needed to be increased to fund the facility when so many people in Miami-Dade are struggling financially because of the pandemic.

Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava asked about how the county's efforts regarding criminal-justice reform have contributed to a reduction in the jail population.

Junior said the county's jail population has decreased 38 percent from 2008 to 2019, partly because of initiatives like pretrial services, monitored release, and jail-diversion programs.

Recent corrections data show the average daily population in Miami-Dade jails increased from 2017 to 2019, a rise Junior attributed to an increase in the county's population. Miami-Dade Corrections cut the jail population by more than 1,000 inmates in recent months because of the pandemic, Junior said.

Although the inmate population has declined over the years, Junior said it could increase for any number of reasons, including growth in the county. He said it's important to plan for potential increases so the jails don't become overcrowded. Projections from Miami-Dade Corrections show that the average daily population across the county jails could reach 4,832 to 6,470 inmates by the year 2039, depending on the rate of growth.

Levine Cava, who is mounting a run for county mayor, said she would like more information about those projections and that she'd want the county to consider non-corrections facilities as alternatives for people who "are not posing a risk."

In a statement to New Times after the meeting, Levine Cava said, "We need more information on the cost-savings and fiscal impacts that important criminal justice reforms will have on the overall budget, because the numbers will likely show that a new jail is not needed. We need to invest in community programs that prevent crime and address critical needs, rather than new jails."

For now, commissioners have not scheduled a vote on the new jail. Commission chairwoman Audrey Edmonson asked Junior to further narrow down potential sites for another presentation at a later meeting.

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