Throughout the country, Americans are facing an urgent crisis that has already taken more than 120,000 lives. The novel coronavirus is rapidly spreading, and some experts believe the situation will worsen as more states reopen for business. In Florida’s prisons, the situation is dire. Prisoners in confined spaces are facing the threat of the virus, and many of them — along with correctional officers and other staff — have tested positive for COVID-19.
COVID-19 Posing a Threat to Inmates and Staff at Prisons and Jails
There are approximately 95,000 inmates and 23,000 employees at 143 prisons in Florida. The Department of Corrections (DOC) reported in early April that 20 employees and 2 probation officers at 12 sites tested positive for COVID-19. A total of 28 workers had been diagnosed since March 24. On Mar. 28, DOC Secretary Mark Inch reassured the families of inmates that they are enforcing social distancing during meal and recreation times, and isolating inmates displaying symptoms of the virus.
Visitations have also been suspended for several weeks, and jails are required to quarantine inmates for 14 days before transferring them to state custody. Facilities are also being sanitized more frequently; however, the virus continues to endanger inmates and staff in the state’s hundreds of prisons and jails.
At a 2,000-bed facility near Pensacola, seven inmates and correctional officers have died of the virus. In Central Florida, a jail has recently reported 100 positive cases, including 85 inmates and 6 employees. A total of 759 inmates reside in the jail. The jail reported that the majority of their cases are asymptomatic, but some afflicted with coronavirus are displaying mild symptoms including headaches, body aches, and nausea.
As of June 1, 2020, 1,529 prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19.
How Can We Slow the Spread of COVID in Florida’s Prisons and Jails?
The rate of infection among prisoners is higher than the general population. There are basic measures anyone can take to reduce their risk of contracting COVID-19, such as:
- Washing your hands frequently
- Using hand sanitizer with a minimum content of 60% alcohol
- Staying away from people with symptoms
- Refraining from touching your face
- Avoiding large gatherings
- Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE)
Yet, prisoners have limited ability to take many of the actions above. To make matters worse, many of the country’s incarcerated individuals are over the age of 55; and, compared to the general population, inmates are more likely to have preexisting health conditions that can exacerbate symptoms of COVID-19 and put them at a higher risk of death.
Politicians across the aisle have suggested ways of protecting inmates. These are a few actions they could take to keep prisoners safe:
- Release people into home confinement who will be released from prison or jail within the next six months. Consider individuals whom the state correctional department does not deem a threat to the public.
- Grant parole to prisoners 65 and older, with priority for those with underlying health conditions. Those considered for parole should be deemed unlikely to reoffend. The US Sentencing Commision found that people in prison who are 65 and older recidivate at a rate of 13%. Compared to the national average of 68%, this is fairly low.
- Suspend copayments for medical visits for incarcerated people. Some U.S. prisoners make as little as $0.16 per hour for their labor.
- Make hand sanitizer available to inmates for free. In some prisons, sanitizers that contain alcohol are banned.
- Implement social distancing policies. Make it easier for people on probation or parole to meet their requirements without visiting their probation or parole officers in-person.
Individuals who face criminal charges should take urgent action to defend themselves. With the help of a criminal defense lawyer in West Palm Beach, it may be possible to sway the court to reduce your charge or dismiss it completely.
Defend Yourself With the Help of an Experienced Criminal Lawyer in West Palm Beach
At The Law Office of Gabriel & Gabriel, we are fully committed to providing our clients with the best possible outcome in each case. Whether you face misdemeanor or felony charges, our team is here to support you during these challenging times. Attorney Brian P. Gabriel has more than 25 years of experience fighting criminal charges for DUI, sex crimes, felony offenses, juvenile offenses, theft, and more throughout South Florida. Contact our firm by calling 561-622-5575 or complete our contact form for a free consultation.