As coronavirus seeps into prisons, reformers want inmates released

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Convicts: a captive audience for COVID-19.

The coronavirus crisis permeates every aspect of our lives, including the prison industry.

Responding to reports that seven employees of the Department of Corrections tested positive for COVID-19 (an eighth was confirmed Monday), the reform-minded Florida Campaign for Criminal Justice argues to release some of the state’s 96,000 convicts.

Scott McCoy, senior policy counsel for SPLC Action, notes that inmates “are highly vulnerable to outbreaks of contagious illnesses such as COVID-19.

“They are housed in close quarters and can’t practice social distancing. We need to get people out of jails and prisons. We don’t need to have almost 100,000 people locked up at a cost of almost $3 billion a year. The best answer to public health and humanitarian concerns is to get people out,” McCoy asserts.

Kara Gross, legislative director and senior policy counsel for the ACLU of Florida, believes action must be urgent.

“The time to act is right now we cannot delay any longer. For the safety and health of all Floridians,” Gross said, “we need to take action immediately to curb the spread of COVID-19 and prevent any mass outbreak in our prisons.”

“Gov. Ron DeSantis must heed public health experts’ recommendations and safely release those who do not pose a danger to society and are most vulnerable to COVID-19 – particularly the elderly and sick. We need to reduce dangerous overcrowding in our criminal legal system now,” Gross added, “before it’s too late.”

Another advocate contends that coronavirus-ridden correctional facilities is tantamount to a “humanitarian crisis,” especially regarding aging and infirm inmates.

“This is not about sentencing reform, this is about a humanitarian crisis.  I don’t know if society realizes how many people over 60 are in our prisons, just stuck in there for a robbery or battery 35 years ago. They haven’t posed a threat to anyone in decades. Keeping them in prison right now actually poses a threat to their lives,” said Denise Rock, executive director of Florida Cares Charity Corp.

“We must let the elderly in our prisons return home, electronically monitor them if you’d like, just don’t leave them in prison where it is impossible to practice social distancing in prison,” Rock urged.

Lawmakers have sounded the alarm about the correctional industry crisis, where many patients are old or mentally ill, and systemic underfunding and chaos could set the stage for a coronavirus catastrophe.

“Can you imagine what would happen if that virus breaks out anywhere at any of our facilities,” Rep. Dianne Hart said in March, as COVID-19 was only beginning to ramp up. “There’s 95,000 inmates. And we’re in a constant movement, we’re moving people from one facility to another every single day.”

Inmates have been deprived of essentials like soap and toilet paper, and even assuming there was some seismic change in recent weeks, the damage may already have been done regarding the insidious COVID-19 virus given its incubation period could be weeks long.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


  • Ana Gonzalez

    March 31, 2020 at 8:56 pm

    My husband has done more then 65% of his time, has been in since he was 18yrs old and I truly believe that someone would consider how many inmates have made a mistake and served 65 % of there sentence. These men should be given a chance, they have love ones, wives, children, grandchildren and a church family waiting on them. Please find it in your heart to release them. I know that life has thought them a huge lesson. I pray you see how difficult this is for me right now to have him in this situation. Thank you the Gonzalez family

  • Kim Dollar

    April 3, 2020 at 10:00 pm

    Jeffrey Charles Abramowski has sat in Martin Correctional Institution in Florida now for 18 years innocent of a crime he did not commit. Brevard County Florida and their corruption with underhanded means just to get a win in a court case is all they want no matter if you are innocent or guilty. Please help me get Jeffrey Abramowski case heard so finally he can be exonerated. Podcast on murder on the space coast- where justice lies from Florida Today news Journalists John Torres is trying to do the best he can to see that Jeff is freed. It’s going to take more than just John Torres and I before anyone will even review this case. We need publicity, we need news coverage to get this out in the open before they will ever think about letting him out due to what he can do afterwards ! Please help us we beg you.

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