South Florida corrections officers, inmates growing concerned about lack of safety in prisons as COVID-19 cases spike

Florida continues to see a spike in cases of COVID-19, and the impact is taking its toll on many of those who spend most, or all of their time in prisons.

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Florida continues to see a spike in cases of COVID-19, and the impact is taking its toll on many of those who spend most, or all of their time in prisons. 

Detention deputies and family members of inmates are complaining about the lack of safety in South Florida jails. 

With no way to really socially distance, those deputies and inmates are saying that they are being put at a greater risk. 

Chris Pracitto is a criminal defense attorney in Miami. 

“We’re dealing with constitution rights, protection of the community, and literally, life and death of the accused,” Praccito said. “It’s very difficult.”

He told Local 10's Layron Livingston about one client, arrested for a non-violent, property crime back in November and held in Miami-Dade until about a month ago.

That client contracted COVID-19 while inside the jail, and has since been released.

“This is an entire new judicial system that’s been created, and they’re trying to balance those constitutional rights with the pandemic, and they deserve a lot of credit,” he said, referring to judges and prosecutors working to keep non-violent defendants out of jail, if and when possible.

According to Miami-Dade County, there are currently 170 corrections staff members infected with COVID-19 and 142 inmates. Unlike in Broward County, asymptomatic people are also tested in Dade.

The county said 111 corrections staff have recovered from the virus and returned to work. 

Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony said 58 county inmates have tested positive since the pandemic began.

"As of today, we have one inmate (currently in custody) that actually tested positive," Tony told Livingston. 

Previously, one inmate died from the virus.

BSO told Local 10 that 760 of its employees have tested positive for COVID-19, 106 of which have recovered. Those employees will be completing return to work procedures soon. 

The other 170 are active confirmed and remain in isolation, according to BSO. 

“What we are facing in the jails is exactly what we’re facing on the streets and in the community,” Tony said. “I think the difference is we can control the populace that’s coming in.”

Tony said currently, his jails are at 65% capacity, compared to being about 85% full earlier this year.

"That gives us the opportunity to spread out the people and be in compliance with the social distancing," he said. 

And while inmates who show symptoms are tested, the resources aren’t there to test every inmate.

"We have to continue to put forth whatever checks and balances that we can to ensure that we, one – keep the inmate population down, very low, and two — continue to make sure that we sanitize, cleaning areas, keep the isolation and quarantine measures in place as well as all the other safety measures," said Tony. 

According to BSO, total jail population as of Tuesday is 2,845, which is at 65.7% capacity, based on 4,332 available beds. 

A total of 58 inmates have tested positive, one of which remains in custody. 34 of the 58 have recovered and are also still in custody, while 22 of the positive inmates have since been released. 

In Monroe County, there are a total of 397 inmates currently in custody. 

One inmate has tested positive and another is pending results from a recent test. 

One staff member is currently isolating at home after returning a positive test result, while two others who previously tested positive have since quarantined and recovered, and are back at work. 

About the Author:

Layron Livingston made the move from Ohio's Miami Valley to Miami, Florida, to join the Local 10 News team.