(The Center Square) – At least 154 state prison inmates have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic emerged in March, the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) reported in its last weekly update of inmate deaths.
That’s the second-highest number of prison fatalities attributed to the disease in the nation behind Texas’ 161 inmate deaths, according to an analysis by the Marshall Project, a nonpartisan criminal justice nonprofit that is warning COVID-19 is rapidly spiking in jails and prisons across the country.
“By Oct. 15, the number of deaths had its largest one-week rise since mid-May – driven by new deaths reported in California, Florida, Virginia, Illinois, Texas and 13 other states – a jump of 3 percent in a week,” the analysis states, noting 147,100 inmates in state and federal prisons have tested positive for COVID-19 and 1,246 people have died from the disease since March.
After Texas and Florida, Ohio reported the third-highest death toll at 102 inmates. Michigan, Georgia and California reported around 70 deaths each, according to the Marshall Project analysis.
The FDOC updates its COVID-19 dashboard daily but lists the number of deaths attributed to the disease in state prisons once a week. The Florida Department of Health (FDOH) on its COVID-19 dashboard also includes a page that posts the FDOC’s weekly update on inmate and staff deaths.
As of Tuesday’s noon update, the FDOC reported 16,599 positive results from 82,788 tests administered to inmates since the pandemic began, a positivity rate just shy of 20%.
The FDOC does not distinguish how many of those 82,788 tests were administered to inmates after testing positive to track their recoveries and status. Discounting those repeat tests, the Marshall Project estimates the positivity rate among Florida’s prison inmates tops 25%.
The FDOC operates the nation’s third-largest state prison system, housing 95,000 inmates at 145 sites and supervising 164,000 offenders on parole and probation.
About 23,000 Floridians are employed by the FDOC, the state’s largest agency, including about 17,000 people as corrections officers. The FDOC’s budget this year is $2.7 billion, behind only health care and education in state spending.
The FDOC reported Tuesday that 3,359 corrections employees had tested positive for the disease. On Oct. 14, the agency reported 2,932, or 89%, of FDOC workers who tested positive for the disease had been cleared to return to work. That number had not been updated by Tuesday.
The FDOC site does not list deaths among staff, but the FDOH weekly site does. As of Tuesday, it said three FDOC employees have succumbed to the disease.
The Florida Police Benevolent Association (FPBA) issued a statement last week that it had independently confirmed at least six deaths among FDOC employees attributed to the disease.
Citing privacy laws, the FDOC maintains it reports deaths among corrections staff when confirmed by medical examiners, acknowledging there can be a “significant delay” between when the death occurred and when it is reported by the agency.
James Baiardi, the FPBA representative for corrections officers, told the Miami Herald the delay is “unacceptable.”
“If a correction officer succumbs to this deadly disease, it is imperative for the Department of Corrections to notify the PBA and the public about the death to allow the officer’s law enforcement family to mourn his or her life, while also saluting them for their sacrifices,” he said. “No other law enforcement agency we represent would fail to inform us if a member died while protecting the public.”