Miami-Dade County

Another inmate death at Miami-Dade’s jail psychiatric ward

A inmate who was found “unresponsive” in a cell at the Miami-Dade County Jail on Monday was later pronounced dead at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Joseph Wilner, jailed for driving with a suspended license, was being held in the jail’s notorious ninth-floor psychiatric ward. He was the third psychiatric-ward inmate to pass away this year.

Wilner, 59, was being held in unit 9B1, an area reserved for the mentally ill but not for the most “acute” cases, said spokeswoman Janelle Hall. The ward has come under scrutiny in recent years for subpar conditions.

The cause of death and the nature of Wilner’s medical conditions are unknown.

Corrections officer are supposed to check on inmates four times an hour. Miami-Dade Police is investigating the death, which is routine for every death in Miami-Dade jails.

In all, eight Miami-Dade jail inmates have died this year of various medical ailments. The number of deaths has raised scrutiny on medical care in the jails, particularly on the ninth-floor.

The most high-profile of the deaths came in July when a mentally ill man, Joaquin Cairo, broke his pelvis and suffered internal bleeding. He claimed a fellow inmate propositioned him for sex, then hurled him to the ground when he resisted. Cairo later died of his injuries.

Miami-Dade Judge Steve Leifman, an advocate for the mentally ill, questioned whether the man received timely care after the injury.

Three months earlier, another psych ward patient, Juan Matos-Flores, died after jailers found he had collapsed.

Last month, the director, the doctor in charge of medical services for the jails and another administrator resigned. All worked for Jackson Health System, which runs medical care for the county jails.

The U.S. Justice Department is monitoring the jail system. In 2011, the department concluded a three-year probe, saying the nation’s eighth-largest jail system engaged in a “pattern and practice of constitutional violation” of the rights of inmates housed in deplorable living conditions under abusive, inadequate or limited care.

In April, Miami-Dade County and Jackson Health agreed to a long and expensive list of improvements to how the system treats inmates, particularly those who are mentally ill or suicidal.

As part of the deal, the county agreed to build a new mental-health facility, long championed by Judge Leifman, to replace the ninth-floor psychiatric ward. So far, supporters still are waiting for ground to be broken for the facility.

Besides the deaths, the county jail system has had other troubling issues in recent months.

Inmates and guards also have complained repeatedly about rats in the main jail. One inmate recently said a rat bit him in the testicle – a claim that county officials say has yet to be proven.

“We need to verify or deny, based on the results of the investigation,” said Deputy Mayor Genaro “Chip” Iglesias. “Given medical privacy laws, we are prohibited from discussing inmate care and sometimes it does not allow us the opportunity to provide clarity.”

And, in a recent, high profile incident, investigators also are probing a June security gaffe in which cell doors at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center mysteriously opened, spurring a group of inmates to attack another.

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Sally Heyman recently asked the mayor’s office to institute a “management watch” for corrections brass.

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