State prison system reports 12 employees infected by coronavirus; no inmates yet

Florida state prisons hold 96,000 inmates. Source: Department of Corrections

Twelve prison employees in Florida have tested positive for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus that has expanded across the globe.

The Florida Department of Corrections said there were no inmate infections so far among the 96,000 people incarcerated in Florida prisons.

The DOC reported Tuesday that three employees at the privately operated Blackwater Correctional Facility in Santa Rosa County tested positive, and one employee tested positive at each of the following:

/ Apalachee Correctional Institution, in Jackson County

/ Century Correctional Institution, in Escambia County

/ Everglades Correctional Institution, in Dade County

/ Florida Women’s Reception Center, in Marion  County

/ Marion Correctional Institution, in Marion County

/ Sumter Correctional Institution, in Sumter County

/ Zephyrhills Correctional Institution, in Pasco County

/ DOC’s Region 3 operations office, based in Tampa

/ Region 4 probations office, based in Jacksonville.

The DOC employs more than 24,000 people who run 144 state prisons and supervise 161,000 former inmates.

Trying to delay the arrival of COVID-19 in the prison population, DOC previously suspended visitation at the state’s prisons, adjusted probation reporting scheduled to minimize gatherings at probation offices, and suspended inmate furloughs.

Federal prisons too face challenges as the coronavirus pandemic expands across the nation.

Starting Wednesday, federal prisons will put their more than 175,000 inmates on 14-day lockdown in their cells, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons announced Tuesday. Through Tuesday, the Bureau of Prisons reported one inmate death from COVID-19, on Saturday, at Federal Correctional Institution Oakdale I in Louisiana, with 28 inmates infected and 24 staff infected, none in Florida. The bureau has 36,530 employees.

Florida’s nine federal prisons incarcerate nearly 10,000 men and women. Those prisons are in Jackson, Escambia, Leon, Dade and Sumter counties.

Ray Coleman, Jr., president of AFGE local 1570, a labor union representing more than 200 federal correctional workers in Tallahassee, said the correctional system has been overlooked in the pandemic.

He wrote in a Phoenix column recently: “Prison employees, who become more susceptible to the disease, leave work every day and go home to their kids and families. Some even visit their parents in elderly facilities. Even while on duty many are escorting and monitoring inmates at local courts, hospitals and emergency rooms.”