This week, a letter was sent on behalf of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus to Governor Ron DeSantis urging him to take measures to safeguard vulnerable inmate populations from the deadly spread of COVID-19. This letter is a stark reminder of the immediate need for the Governor and Department of Corrections to implement a strategic plan after 4 inmates and 29 correctional officers/contract staff test positive for COVID-19.
Prison reform advocate and Representative Dianne Hart (D-Tampa) said, “During the COVID-19 outbreak, inmates are placed at a greater risk of catching the coronavirus because they are in such close quarters. If this virus spreads throughout our facilities, we will see more deaths and more strain on our already overwhelmed prisons and medical system.”
The letter calls upon the Governor to consider compassionate medical release for inmates who are elderly and non-violent offenders over the age of 60, medically ill inmates with emphasis on those with documented preexisting conditions susceptible to COVID-19, and the release of inmates nearing or at the very end of their sentence to reduce prison populations and assist in maintaining CDC social distancing and disinfecting guidelines. It also highlights other states with significantly larger inmate populations like California and Texas who have already begun implementing similar suggestions made by the Florida Legislative Black Caucus.
“The governor’s success in protecting Floridians during this pandemic hinges on sealing off every possible avenue of transmission. The coronavirus is already present in Florida’s corrections system, threatening an explosion of cases not only among those imprisoned, but families, corrections officers, and support staff, and anyone who comes in contact with them. As we learned from the spread of this disease across the state in recent weeks, waiting for action can result in catastrophic consequences. We want to take every measure possible to prevent that,” said Florida Legislative Black Caucus Chair Senator Bobby Powell, Jr. (D-West Palm Beach).
Florida is the third largest correctional system in the United States with over 96,000 inmates and over 23,000 employees. The close quarters can easily become a breeding ground for the virus, quickly facilitating its spread within the 143 correctional institutions across Florida.