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More COVID-19 Testing Of Inmates Sought

barbed wire prison fence
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A group that pushes for changes in the criminal-justice system urged Florida Corrections Secretary Mark Inch on Wednesday to expand COVID-19 testing of inmates, noting that nearly half of the prisoners tested are found to be positive for the respiratory illness.

As of Tuesday, 45 percent of the 438 state inmates who had undergone testing for the virus had received positive results, according to data provided by the Department of Corrections.

“We urge you to take whatever steps are necessary to significantly expand testing of incarcerated people and to reduce the positive rate of incarcerated people to 10 percent or lower,” Greg Newburn, the Florida director of the group Families Against Mandatory Minimums, wrote in a letter to Inch. Newburn said the high rate of positive tests “suggests a significant number of infected but untested people in Florida prisons.”

In the letter, Newburn also asked Inch to publicize the number of prison employees who have undergone testing, information that corrections officials have refused to release for weeks despite numerous requests from The News Service of Florida and other news outlets. Newburn said that “while staff positive tests are publicly available, staff testing rates --- and, by extension, staff positive rates --- are not.”

As of Tuesday, 134 corrections workers had tested positive for the virus, corrections officials said.

“Based on the experience of other states, we are also concerned that COVID-19 could have a negative impact on FDC (Department of Corrections) staff levels, which in turn could threaten the security of prison facilities,” Newburn said.

The prison system has 145 facilities, roughly 94,000 inmates and 23,000 workers.