Public defenders from Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, who are representing the inmates seeking to attach their claims to Charles, say their goal is to restrict what they call Wackenhut's indiscriminate use of solitary confinement at South Bay. Palm Beach County Public Defender Ken Johnson says that solitary confinement is used at South Bay "whenever, wherever and indefinitely."
The Charles case remains active even though Charles was released from solitary in April of last year, after Judge Blanc issued a "show cause" order on his behalf. In May 2000, the state moved to dismiss the suit, arguing that Charles' release from solitary rendered the case moot.
But in July, Blanc denied the state's motion to dismiss on the grounds that the Wackenhut practices were "capable of repetition," in a manner "not subject to judicial review." In December, Blanc granted Charles' original habeas petition, thus retroactively confirming that the solitary confinement was a due process violation. And he denied a new state motion to dismiss, again continuing the case on the "capable of repetition" grounds.
In a hearing before Judge Blanc this month, Miami-Dade assistant public defender John Morrison said that no state-approved regulations for the holding facility are in place, and that Wackenhut has improvised rules from its own detainee handbook. Morrison called those rules "clearly inadequate" and said they left prison guards "without constraint." At the hearing, Morrison said that "Wackenhut's attitude is, 'These aren't prisoners. We can throw away the rules.' No hearing. No notice. One guy was in solitary for six months."
The Florida attorney general's office, representing Kearney, has challenged the standing of the public defenders in the Charles case, arguing that it constitutes a class-action suit and that public defenders are prohibited by state law from participating. But Johnson and Morrison insist that they represent a collection of individual clients, not a class.
Johnson says that news of the challenges to the Ryce Act's weaknesses has spread throughout the South Bay inmate population, and that all 130 Ryce Act detainees may file habeas corpus claims.
Wackenhut spokeswoman Margaret Pearson told the Daily Business Review that her company had established an "internal local procedures handbook" for South Bay operations that was "tailor-made" to the facility population and to " Wackenhut's contractual obligations." She cited no statutory basis for the handbook, saying it had been reviewed by the Department of Children and Families.
But Greg Venz, director of the Sexually Violent Predator Program, said he has "no idea where [Wackenhut] pulled [their guidebook] from." He added that "it didn't seem inappropriate." Venz said that there's 50 years of case law to draw on in crafting detention rules for correctional facilities.
Venz said his agency is still learning how to administer the Jimmy Ryce program because it's a "new approach, part detention, part rehabilitation." But he cautions that "not every decision that's made for behavior management implies a right to due process."