The Phoenix Flyer

Prison policy report issues FL prisons an “F” grade for COVID response

By: - September 1, 2021 1:57 pm

Florida’s prison population ranks third in the nation. Credit: Alex Potemkin/Getty Images

Florida state prisons had the nation’s third-highest number of COVID-19 deaths among inmates and was 17th highest in its mortality rate, earning an “F” grade for its COVID response in a 50-state analysis by the Prison Policy Initiative, an independent research and advocacy organization that studies mass incarceration.

Florida prisons lost 221 inmates to COVID, trailing only Texas and California, which have larger general populations and larger prison populations, according to COVID data through July analyzed by the prison-policy research group.

Florida wasn’t alone in getting failing marks from the research group. Only 13 state prison systems were graded above an “F.” The highest grades were a “C” for New Jersey and a “C-” for California, both of which engaged in progressive policies to reduce the density of their prisons by furloughing or deferring imprisonment of low-risk offenders.

“From the beginning of the pandemic, it was clear that densely packed prisons and jails — the result of decades of mass incarceration in the U.S. — presented dangerous conditions for the transmission of COVID-19. More than a year later, the virus has claimed more than 2,700 lives behind bars and infected one out of every three people in prison,” wrote the authors of the report, Tiana Herring and Maanas Sharma.

“We gave most states failing grades because they refused to address basic health and mental health needs for those trapped inside, and they shied away from releasing large numbers of people who could have been safely returned home, all of which contributed to extremely dangerous conditions behind bars.”

The report, available here, studied rates of infection, death, and vaccination, and it compared policies that Prison Policy Initiative believes to be effective at mitigating illness and loss of life in prisons during this public-health crisis without sacrificing public safety.

It also cited a shortage of of readily available public data, as is the case in Florida, which stopped posting prison-related COVID data in June, after previously scaling back its data release to just a few sentences posted on the Corrections Department website.

The Florida Department of Corrections has not yet responded to the Phoenix’s questions about the findings in the report.

On Aug. 9, a spokesman told the Phoenix that 88 state inmates were diagnosed with COVID and that the total state-prison population was 80,064. The spokesman said all inmates in all state prisons were offered vaccination and that all those who request it get it.

The Corrections Department last posted COVID information on June 2, citing no COVID-infected inmates. The Department shrank its daily data report to a brief summary sometime between Dec. 11, 2020, and Jan. 4, 2021. For most of 2020, the department published a daily tally of inmates and employees at each prison who were tested, diagnosed with COVID, in quarantine, in medical units, recovered or deceased.


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper. Contact her at [email protected]