Florida COVID-19 response “completely failed to protect incarcerated people,” report finds


Nicole Pasia


A report from the Prison Policy Initiative released Wednesday gave Florida an “F” rating on its COVID-19 response in prisons as of July 2021, scoring 131 points on a 445-point scale. The Florida Department of Corrections is the state’s largest agency and the third largest state prison system in the country, with 80,000 incarcerated inmates and supervises approximately 145,000 offenders in the community. 


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The national report evaluated states’ COVID-19 response based on four metrics: Limiting the number of people in prisons, reducing infection and death rates, vaccinating the incarcerated population, and addressing basic health and mental health needs. The study said: 

“While some states performed well on one or two of these criteria, no state’s response to COVID-19 in prison has been sufficient. The highest letter grade awarded was a ‘C’, and most states completely failed to protect incarcerated people.”

Florida received 44 out of 130 points on incarcerated population reduction. In March 2020, there were 93,764 incarcerated people in the state, according to population data from the Marshall Project. Most recently, 80,271 people were incarcerated, a 14.4% reduction. 

Florida’s COVID-19 infection and mortality rates among its incarcerated population were both twice as high as the general state population, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. The study reported 18,072 positive COVID-19 cases, or 22.5%, of the incarcerated population. There were 221 COVID-19 deaths in the incarcerated population, or 0.28%. Infection and mortality rates among the general state population were 10.8% and 0.18%, respectively, according to the report.


Image: Prison Policy Initiative


Florida received zero points when it came to vaccinating incarcerated inmates. The Prison Policy Initiative only awarded points to states if they prioritized the incarcerated population in their vaccine distributions plans, which Florida did not include. 

The report also said Florida is one of 15 state prison systems with less than 60% of its incarcerated population vaccinated. According to UCLA Law’s COVID-19 Behind Bars Data Project, which the study referenced, 44.3% of the incarcerated population was vaccinated as of July 1, 2021.

For the final COVID-19 response indicator, addressing health and mental health, the study looked to see if prisons enacted policies such as providing masks and hygiene products, free calls to loved ones, suspended medical co-pays, and mask and testing requirements. 

Florida was on par with the national average on this measure (45 out of 115 points), but did not suspend medical co-pays nor require COVID-19 testing for prison staff.

The Florida Department of Corrections did not immediately respond to State of Reform’s request for comment.