Legislators want compassionate release because of coronavirus in Florida prisons

Dianne Hart on Primary Election Day, 2018
Dianne Hart on Primary Election Day, 2018. By Seán Kinane / WMNF News.

Here is a link to many coronavirus resources

More than 13,000 Florida prisoners have tested positive for coronavirus. There are more than 2,000 confirmed cases among staff within Florida’s correctional facilities. We hear from several state legislators and from a justice advocate about this crisis in Florida prisons.

They want the governor to release many of the prisoners for compassionate care.

Listen to the full show here.

This is Tampa Democratic Representative Dianne Hart, speaking during a Zoom conference Thursday.

“Over the past few months, we’ve been experiencing unprecedented times. We’re in the midst of a global pandemic that has affected more than 500,000 people in Florida alone, not to mention over 8,000 lives claimed here in Florida at the hands of coronavirus. While I am saddened by the lack of leadership that has caused this situation to grow into a crisis that it has, I am also concerned about the lack of leadership in our Florida prison system. Our prison medical system was already experiencing some difficult challenges as it relates to medical services inside of our facilities, so just imagine what COVID is now doing.

“According to the Florida Department of Corrections website, as of yesterday at 3 p.m., there were 13,763 confirmed COVID cases among inmates and another 2,100 among staffers. Due to the lack of action by the leadership in this state, more than 20,000 inmates are now being held in medical quarantine, and as reported by the Tampa Bay Times on July 6, more than 20 people had died from contracting the virus while incarcerated and that number continues to grow every day.

“As of yesterday, 21,500 inmates were in medical quarantine in Florida prisons. That’s one-fourth of its population. However, not one was eligible for a compassionate release. As of August 12th at 3 p.m., there have been 73 inmate deaths and four staff-related deaths. These numbers have continued to climb since March when we sent the first of many letters to both the Governor’s office, Surgeon General and the secretary of corrections. I asked them in March to allow those who are nonviolent offenders, those who had completed the majority of their sentence, and those who are vulnerable to contracting this virus due to underlying health issues to be granted compassionate release. Till this date, August 14, 2020, I have yet to receive a response from those letters. Today I am joined by some of my colleagues from the Florida Legislature, who, like me, have been calling on the governor and the secretary to act. I am grateful for their efforts as we work to create a plan to deal with this virus. Not sentence individuals to death by allowing this virus to continue to run rampant in our facilities.”

Sen. Bobbie Powell represents Senate District 30 in Palm Beach County and is the chair of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus.

“From the perspective of the Black caucus I want to reiterate the point that after Representative Hart issued a letter requesting that the Governor release inmates due to compassionate care. We as a Caucus also released a letter back in April.

“At the time, we called on the Governor and the Department of Corrections to release a strategic plan after four inmates and 29 correctional officers/contract staff, had tested positive for COVID-19.

“Today, after the numbers that have been stated by Rep. Hart, over 13,763 cases, we’ve come a long way inside of an institutionalized population. You may have been a person who’s known someone who has died or has contracted coronavirus. And I want to put more than just a number to those people.

“I recently lost a longtime family friend, slash, church member due to COVID-19, and each individual who is incarcerated is someone’s family, is someone’s loved one and deserves to be counted as more than just a number.

“So once again we’re asking that the Governor does consider compassionate medical release for inmates who are elderly, nonviolent offenders over the age of 60. Medically ill inmates with an emphasis on those who have documented preexisting conditions that are susceptible to COVID-19, and the release of inmates who are nearing or at the very end of their sentences to reduce populations and assist in maintaining the CDC social distancing and disinfecting guidelines that are currently in place.”

We also heard from Rep. Kim Daniels, Rep. Susan Valdes and Rep. Wengay Newton.


Listen to the 8:30 a.m. WMNF News headlines for 17 August 2020:

Listen to the 7:30 a.m. WMNF News headlines for 17 August 2020:

Listen to the 6:30 a.m. WMNF News headlines for 17 August 2020:


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