When we ran the story "117 Dead," in August of 2001, we had heard rumors that the U.S. Department of Justice was going to look into conditions at Miami-Dade's jails.
Those rumors turned out to be true. This week, Acting Assistant Attorney General Grace Chung Becker sent County Mayor Carlos Alvarez a letter saying that a probe had been opened because of concerns over the number of deaths, illnesses and suicides behind bars.
``Our investigation will focus on protection of inmates from harm, including providing adequate suicide prevention measures, medical care, mental healthcare, protection from inmate violence and sanitation conditions, as well as the use of excessive force against inmates," Becker wrote.
Surely one of the cases the feds will scrutinize is that of Rodolfo Ramos, a 41-year-old inmate who was awaiting trial. Ramos was in a wheelchair and confined to a solitary cell when he slipped into a coma. He died in a hospital bed -- just days after his family fought a legal battle to unshackle the comatose man from the bed.
Lawyers have already filed a suit against the county on behalf of Ramos' family. But hopefully a Justice Department probe will achieve what county officials have been unable, or unwilling, to do: provide a fair and safe environment for those in jail.
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Unfortunately, many people just don't give a damn about those locked up in the county's jails -- take a reader of the Miami Herald's story on this matter, who wrote online yesterday, "I don't happen to think that convicted felons HAVE any civil rights." To the people who feel that way, remember: most of the folks in county jail are awaiting trial and have not been convicted of any crime. And for prisoners -- convicted or otherwise -- not to have civil rights, well, that sounds suspiciously like what goes on behind bars some 90 miles south of here. -Tamara Lush