Gov. Ron DeSantis described Florida’s prison system Wednesday as the second priority on the state’s COVID-19 triage list.
Speaking to reporters from inside the state Capitol, he recognized the state’s tedious battle to prevent the virus from thriving in state correctional facilities.
“We’ve dedicated a lot of testing resources to the prisons and probably have tested, not quite as robust as the nursing homes, but I mean nursing homes have been the most robust target for us in terms of testing,” DeSantis said. “I would say probably the prisons have been second in terms of the amount of resources that have been done. We’ve gone through pretty much all the facilities.”
But while working to keep the virus on the outside of prison walls is one aspect, DeSantis acknowledged that containing a virus that already exists within a facility is another. Similar to nursing homes, prison systems are inherently vulnerable to COVID-19 by demographic and design.
“When you’re talking about a prison, they are a much more challenging situation in terms of finding alternative facilities,” he said. “They have isolated within the existing framework that we have and we’ve obviously encouraged them to do it.”
According to the Florida Department of Corrections, 13,763 state prison inmates and 2,147 state correctional workers have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic. In that time, 73 inmates have also died with the virus.
In one particular facility, the Suwannee Correctional Institution, 721 of the 1,950 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19. In a news release, department officials said the “great majority” of inmates at the institution who tested positive for the virus presented mild or no symptoms when they were tested.
FDC is Florida’s largest state agency. The department employs 24,000 members, incarcerates about 90,000 inmates and supervises nearly 155,000 offenders in the community.