A Marion County prison official tested positive for coronavirus and a Palm Beach County inmate is under quarantine after showing symptoms.
The COVID-19 pandemic already has much of Florida’s population self-isolating. But the idea of a superbug reaching general population has prisoner advocates sounding alarms and calling for a Special Session.
An employee at the Marion Correctional Institution’s Work Camp in the Ocala area tested positive, according to the Miami Herald. The 274-inmate work camp population now is on “restricted movement.” The Marion Correctional Institution can house 1,324.
Meanwhile, an inmate at South Bay Correctional Institution told The News-Press an inmate in the Palm Beach County facility has been isolated after showing symptoms.
State Rep. Clay Yarborough said testing for the prisoner ultimately came back negative.
But the scares have left many anxious.
In Marion, three staff members who had close contact with the employee and tested positive have already been put on leave.
News of a positive test for a corrections employee has increased existing concerns about what exposure to a highly contagious virus could mean in a prison setting.
On Tuesday, Families Against Mandatory Minimums urged Gov. Ron DeSantis to call a Special Session focused on prison safety.
“COVID-19 poses a grave threat to prisoners and corrections professionals,” wrote Greg Newburn, FAMM Florida director, in a letter to the Governor. “Minimizing that threat requires giving the Department of Corrections important tools they currently lack. Giving the Department these tools requires legislative action, and legislative action requires a special session.”
Newburn also urged DeSantis to grant reprieves not exceeding 60 days and joint clemency authority to release prisoners who pose no threat to public safety.
Notably, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister last week released 164 inmates from county jails who were accused of non-violent crimes.
Newburn noted Florida has no release mechanism for elderly prisoners, and the coronavirus outbreak poses a particular threat to those over the age of 70.
“It defies logic that containing COVID-19 requires the near complete shutdown of our state’s economy,” Newburn wrote, “but that the same threat warrants no significant changes to prisons. Those closest to this problem must have the flexibility to solve it, and current law ties the hands of system actors unnecessarily.”
Prison conditions were also a concern of several lawmakers who participated in a call with administration officials on Sunday. Rep. Diane Hart expressed concern both for the inmate population and the financial security of corrections officers put on leave after showing symptoms.
“Several corrections have been sent home for 14 days,” she said. “How are we planning to protect those?”