Democratic lawmakers call out shortcomings with prison medical care as coronavirus threatens
Reps. Dianne Hart and Susan Valdez hold press conference with the family of Timothy Thomas and their lawyer.

Hart and Valdez
State prisons could be particularly vulnerable to the spread of the coronavirus.

Democratic Rep. Dianne Hart said the medical care in the state’s prisons is inadequate and inmates are dying because of it.

Many of the 95,000 inmates currently incarcerated have underlying medical conditions. Rep. Susan Valdez said about 57,000 of them in the 2018-2019 fiscal year suffered from chronic diseases, including HIV and Hepatitis C. 

Hart said she’s petrified that the coronavirus will spread inside state prisons. People who are elderly and those with underlying conditions are more likely to get severely ill if they are infected with the disease. 

“Can you image what would happen if that virus breaks out anywhere at any of our facilities,” she said. “There’s 95,000 inmates. And we’re in a constant movement, we’re moving people from one facility to another every single day.”

Hart said she just addressed a situation at Lowell Correctional Institution, a women’s prison, where the guards took away the soap and toilet paper and then returned it. She said she plans to speak to Department of Corrections Secretary Mark Inch to make sure inmates have access to soap. 

She adds that in some facilities, dental equipment did not work. In others, inmates complained they weren’t being seen for medical calls or given their medication. 

Valdez says a recent audit of the state’s prison healthcare system found that the push for privatization of the service delivery for the past decade has resulted in worst care for inmates and a “raw deal for taxpayers.” 

Centurion of Florida is the sole provider of healthcare at Florida state prisons. Hart said their staff acts like the inmates don’t deserve the same quality of medical care as people who are not in prison, which she has a problem with.

The two lawmakers also pointed to guards accused of causing inmate injuries and deaths. A lawyer representing the family of Timothy Thomas said he was killed by guards who jumped him in 2018. He was one of at least 145 inmates who died that year. 

Lowell inmate Cheryl Weimar was attacked last year and is now a quadriplegic. She is suing the four guards who allegedly attacked her.

Sarah Mueller

Sarah Mueller has extensive experience covering public policy. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010. She began her career covering local government in Texas, Georgia and Colorado. She returned to school in 2016 to earn a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting. Since then, she’s worked in public radio covering state politics in Illinois, Florida and Delaware. If you'd like to contact her, send an email to [email protected].


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