April 17th, 2020
Governor Ron DeSantis
700 N Adams St.
Tallahassee, FL 32303
Dear Governor DeSantis:
Floridians inside prisons and their loved ones on the outside are depending on you to act. It is the State’s responsibility to protect the people in their custody. The majority of incarcerated people are not serving life sentences, but in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic your failure to protect them from infection is tantamount to issuing a statewide death sentence.
The time for prevention has passed. COVID-19 has already entered the Florida prison system and the numbers are climbing daily. As of Thursday evening, there were 44 confirmed cases among prisoners and 63 among staff. The Florida Department of Corrections continues to claim low numbers, but we know these numbers to be underreported as most prisons are not adequately testing. Additionally, it was discovered on Wednesday that FDOC and Secretary Inch hid the deaths of two prisoners at Blackwater River Correctional Facility for over a week. This deliberate lack of transparency obstructs efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within our prison system. The depravity of abandoning prisoners to wait for certain death is unacceptable.
In the context of a global pandemic, we must understand the prison system as a massive disease vector. Every day prison staff expose more and more people behind bars to infection. There are no safety measures strong enough to keep a pandemic out of prisons and it is literally impossible to practice social distancing in a cell. Despite your Safer at Home order and FDOC’s announcement to halt movement between facilities, prisoners are still being transferred across the State. This outbreak will continue to spread like wildfire unless immediate collective action is taken to release and protect incarcerated people.
We know infection rates inside New York prisons and jails are 10 times higher than the outside population, despite prison officials’ claims of proper sanitation. It will be no different here. The national projected death toll of prisoners is in excess of 100,000; of that over 7,500 prisoners are expected to die in Florida prisons and jails. This total disregard for human life and continued failure to act is equivalent to genocide. Failure to act now is to condone a massacre of thousands of Floridians behind bars.
We demand that decision-makers at the state level take action now:
1. RELEASE PEOPLE immediately from state prisons, juvenile detention centers, and county jails, beginning with those most vulnerable to infection and those near their release dates.
2. PROVIDE proper sanitation supplies, soap, and PPE TO EVERYONE inside prisons and jails while release plans are implemented.
3. REQUIRE all facilities to provide FREE phone calls and video visitations during the pandemic and until FDOC reinstates in-person visitations.
4. TERMINATE all medical co-pays, charges, and limitations on essential hygiene products, and allow prisoners to see the doctor upon their first request.
If these actions are not taken, thousands of deaths will be on your hands.
Citizens of Florida