Updated: Apr 26, 2020
Time to save lives! Ask Gov. deSantis to protect our inmates from COVID-19!
There are over 96,000 inmates in correctional facilities in Florida. It is nearly impossible to allow for social distancing in an institution where cells that normally hold two inmates are now holding 3 or 4, unless they are in a building where hundreds are living in crowded dormitories, sharing showers and toilets, and sitting shoulder to shoulder in chow halls.
Any many of them should not even be there.
While 40 states have some form of legal medical cannabis and 10 states with legal Adult Use, there are thousands in Florida prisons serving their one year for simple possession. Some are sitting in jails still awaiting trial for as much as a year before even being adjudicated or sentenced, since they cant make bail.
There are also thousands of non-violent offenders on non-violent crimes, including technical sentences for probation violation.
During this SARS CoV-2 outbreak, which leads to COVID-19 cases, they are at higher risk than those on the outside. Crowded conditions, poor sanitation and lack of full testing are making things far worse. Inmates who become symptomatic often deny being sick, because being symptomatic often means been put into an isolation cell, which had previously been used only for punishment.
The numbers across the country of infection rates in jails and prison are staggering. Marion Prison in Ohio, which was used as the basis for the book and TV series, “Orange is the New Black”, now has almost 1900 cases, 75% of the prison population.
According to an epidemiological model released on Wednesday, a collaboration between the ACLU and a team of academic researchers across the country shows that the number of COVID-related deaths will increase twofold if measures are not taken to adequately reduce jail populations. Even if social distancing is strictly followed in every other area of American life, running jails as per usual would potentially cause an additional 100,000 people, both in and outside of jails, to lose their lives.
In Florida, the Florida Department of Corrections(FDC), has been less than transparent, refusing to report the number of inmates for weeks when asked by legislators, journalists and advocates, and waited a week before announcing the deaths of inmates in Blackwater prison in Milton, Santa Rosa County. Reports have started to emerge, but the numbers do not reflect the stories brought forth by inmates by phone and j-pay-email.
Sending those who are awaiting trial for non-violent offenses home on the their own recognizance and early release or release to electronically monitored home arrest would thin out the prison and jail population, making it easier on the staff to control outbreaks and allow for social distancing to prevent further spread.
Federal prisons have sent home elderly and at-risk inmates, but Governor deSantis, for now, won’t take those measures, keeping the problem alive and risking the lives of those inside those walls.
Suncoast NORML, along with the national NORML organization are offering people the chance to contact the governor to act. Click on this link, fill out the simple form and the link will automatically send Gov. deSantis an email, appealing to his leadership and compassion on this existential threat to the lives of almost 100K inmates, many of whom should not even be there.
Thank you for being an advocate and activist in this critical time.