Inmates in federal prisons in FL are getting COVID vaccine; state inmates are not

All but three the 93 county-run jails in Florida's 67 counties have not conducted physical and medical inspections since the pandemic began. Credit: Iuoman/Getty Images

Federal prisons located in Florida, reporting only eight COVID deaths among inmates at 18 prisons and re-entry centers, have begun vaccinating at-risk inmates and employees.

Federal prison facilities are operated by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, which reports it has administered nearly 38,000 doses of vaccines to inmates and prisons staff. The bureau said that as supplies become available, it is prioritizing vaccination of corrections officers and inmates at greatest risk of dying if they contract the disease, following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

The system incarcerates more than 137,000 people nationwide and employs more than 37,000 workers. The most vaccinations completed in Florida were given at Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Sumter County, where 166 inmates and 261 employees were vaccinated, according to the last report.

Five inmates and one employee have died at the huge, three-prison complex, according to bureau tracking data. Three more inmates died in two federal prisons in Miami.

Meanwhile, 205 inmates have died of COVID-19 in state-run prisons, the highest death toll for state prison systems in the nation, according to The Marshall Project COVID tracker.

Sixteen state prisons have reported no inmate deaths from COVID-19, while 41 others have seen as many as 46 incarcerated people die of the disease, according to data on COVID deaths in prisons reported by the Florida Department of Health.

State-run prisons are not vaccinating inmates against coronavirus, regardless of their age or health condition, while vaccine supplies for the general public remain in short supply.

Gov. Ron DeSantis bristled recently at the suggestion of diverting scarce vaccines to inmates.

“Whose priorities are you looking out for? We’re looking out for our parents and grandparents here in Florida. There’s no way you’re going to get some prisoner a vaccine over a senior citizen,” the governor said on Monday.

The health department says the highest toll deaths in the state-run prisons are at the Reception and Medical Center in Lake Butler, where 46 male inmates died; 24 at South Florida Reception Center in Doral; and 15 at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford.

System-wide, nearly 18,000 men, women, and teen-agers in state prisons have tested positive for the disease and survived it. Through Friday, 107 inmates were in medical isolation, meaning they have or are suspected of having COVID-19, and 3,600 more were in medical quarantine, meaning they were being monitored for signs of infection after being exposed to the disease.

Florida’s public and private state prisons incarcerate approximately 83,000 people, according to December prison census data.