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Coronavirus in Florida

Juvenile detention facilities suspend visitation amid coronavirus concerns

Clinical staff, instructors and attorneys are still permitted to meet with juvenile offenders.

The Department of Juvenile Justice has issued an emergency order suspending visitation at all state-operated juvenile detention centers and juvenile residential programs until April 15th because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. DJJ has no known or suspected cases of COVID-19 at this time.

Department of Health (DOH) officials are now reporting nine deaths and 432 coronavirus cases in Florida. That includes 39 non-residents.

DJJ Secretary Simone Marstiller says it’s a step they don’t take lightly.

“But we find it necessary to restrict the movement of individuals into our facilities to prioritize the health of youth in our custody, in addition to our agency and contracted provider staff,” she said. “We will work diligently to maintain regular communication between youth and their families.”

DJJ has also instituted additional screening measures for outside vendors who work within our juvenile facilities. Clinical personnel are still permitted to visit youth for treatment purposes, instructional personnel are permitted to provide educational services, and attorneys are permitted to conduct legal visits with youth. Marstiller says parents or family members with questions about visitation should contact the facility where their child is located.

Florida prisons have temporarily stopped accepting new inmates, a move aimed at preventing the spread of coronavirus in state correctional facilities but that shifts the burden of housing offenders to local officials.

The Department of Corrections confirmed the move Wednesday, two days after the new policy, first reported by the Florida Times-Union, was implemented.

In a statement issued Wednesday, department officials said they will restrict the intake of inmates and “new commitments from counties” until March 30. But they said the timeline could change following further consultation with public health officials, amid heightened fears about the rapidly spreading disease known as COVID-19.

The decision to curtail the flow of inmates into the state prison system, which houses roughly 96,000 offenders, comes a week after Department of Corrections officials canceled visitation until April 5. Prisoners’ lawyers are still allowed to have face-to-face visits.

Corrections officials’ move to stop taking new inmates could have a wide-ranging impact on county jails, which could become overcrowded because of the new policy.

FDC offered some perks to inmates including a free video visitation session and 30 minutes of phone calls.

“When physical visits are impossible or inconvenient, JPay’s Video Visitation lets you talk face-to face with your incarcerated friend or relative from the comfort of your own home. When you can’t be there, this is the next best thing,” promotional copy asserts.

Broward and Miami-Dade counties have seen the largest concentration of cases in the state. Miami-Dade has 101 reported cases while Broward has 96. 

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The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

Written By

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 sarah@floridapolitics.com.

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