After Criticism, Miami-Dade State Attorney Pledges to Help Release Nonviolent Arrestees

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle is up for reelection in November 2020.
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle is up for reelection in November 2020. Photo via Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office
After criticism from civil rights activists and her 2020 election opponent, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle announced tonight that her office is formulating a plan to release misdemeanor and nonviolent inmates from the county jail system during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The decision is something of a reversal for Rundle's office. Yesterday her spokesperson, Ed Griffith, told New Times that prosecutors had no way to reduce the number of arrests. Activists and outside legal experts said that was not true. In an open letter, 18 activist and civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, demanded that Rundle do her part to help release inmates and halt the possible spread of the novel coronavirus.

Rundle's 2020 primary opponent, Melba Pearson, released a statement last week arguing that the State Attorney's Office needed to end cash bail and release new arrestees during the outbreak. Pearson also said she was open to limiting arrests during the outbreak. Pearson has positioned herself as a progressive challenger to Rundle, who has been the county's top prosecutor since 1993.
Rundle's silence on the issue seemed strange over the weekend. Jails are notoriously filthy places where inmates live in close quarters and lack adequate medical care. Critics warn that COVID-19 outbreaks could be difficult to contain if the novel coronavirus reached local jails.

Prosecutors in other major cities affected by the outbreak have made calls to empty jails of all but the most dangerous inmates and essential personnel. San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin this month directed his prosecutors not to oppose defense motions to release any inmates imprisoned for misdemeanor or nonviolent felony drug cases. This week, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner also said he was revamping the way his office charges cases and sets bail. The Legal Aid Society of New York City has asked that the city's law enforcement system release vulnerable inmates and halt all arrests while the virus spreads.
Today Rundle's office also announced that a staffer in her office who had developed flu-like symptoms has tested negative for COVID-19. One recent arrestee also was tested for the virus, but the results have not yet been released to the public.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.