County jails in FL not inspected during pandemic; lawmaker demands to know what’s going on

Barbed wire. Credit: Alex Potemkin, Getty Images.

During the coronavirus pandemic, few of Florida’s 93 local jails performed inspections of their facilities and medical programs, according to a complaint lodged by State Rep. Omari Hardy, who represents part of Palm Beach County in the Legislature.

Only seven reported inspecting their facilities since the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed on March 1. The rest conducted their last inspection before then, or they declined to do them under authorization granted on July 9 by the Florida Model Jail Standards Committee, an arm of the Florida Sheriffs Association.

The July 9 authorization permitted jail operators to suspend inspections, which are otherwise required annually, through the end of 2020.

Hardy, a Democrat, called on the Jail Standards Committee Monday to require jails to complete inspections by March 31 and report their findings, in order to understand conditions in them.

In response, Sumter County Sheriff William “Bill” Farmer, chairman of the standards committee, sent Hardy a memo stating that jail operators are now free to resume inspections – or they may simply attest at any time this year that their jails are in “ongoing compliance.”

Hardy was incensed.

“Oversight is not voluntary. You cannot say that jail administrators can have inspections if they want them, or simply pinky-promise that they are following the rules if they don’t want the inspections,” Hardy said in a press statement. “That’s not good enough. That’s not how oversight works. The FMJS Committee needs to require inspections at all the jails it oversees, and it needs to require these inspections as soon as possible.”

“We are in the midst of a global pandemic, and most of the locally operated jails in Florida have not been inspected in over a year,” Hardy continued. “We cannot allow jails to continue to operate this way without any oversight.”

The New York Times COVID data tracker on Monday reported these data on COVID-19 diagnoses in county jails in Florida: Miami-Dade – 715; Orange – 606; Marion – 323; Seminole – 273; Okaloosa – 238; Lake – 229; Escambia – 211; Sarasota – 193; Clay – 164; Alachua – 147; Leon – 139; Pinellas – 135; Walton – 115; Bay – 100; Collier – 94; Brevard County – 83; Manatee County – 73; Palm Beach Youth Academy – 52; Palm Beach main detention center – 51.

In Florida, state-run prisons have had the highest number of COVID deaths Now, Florida is ranked the second-highest numbers for COVID-19 deaths among inmates in the entire country, according to The Marshall Project.

Federally run prisons in Florida have had far fewer deaths, and vaccinations are being administered to inmates and staff at greatest risk of dying of COVID if they contract it.