TAMPA, Fla. — As COVID-19 vaccine eligibility expands, Florida is part of a shrinking number of states that has yet to vaccinate a single prison inmate.
Florida is one of four states where prison inmates and/or staff have not been made eligible for the vaccine, according to KFF (The Kaiser Family Foundation), rejecting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation.
“Let’s be frank. This isn’t an issue in which we can’t do something. It’s an issue in which we’re choosing not to do something. And we believe that we can do better," said Neil Volz, deputy director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC).
FRRC is an organization made up of former felons, working the end disenfranchisement and discrimination against people with convictions.
Its president, Desmond Meade, also served as one of 14 members of the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice.
“We came up with these recommendations in 2020. And so we see this being rolled out in federal prisons, we see this being rolled out across other states," Meade said.
Meade said he is disappointed Florida is not one of them.
"Basically, we could turn our prisons into a graveyard," Meade said.
Federal prisons and prisons in 36 other states are vaccinating inmates and correctional officers. In 11 states, only prison staff are eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations.
In New York on Monday, a judge ordered the state to offer vaccines to every prisoner, saying, "there is no acceptable excuse for this deliberate exclusion" of the population.
“There have been more than twice the amount of people who have died from COVID-19 in Florida prisons, than the entire amount of people that has been executed, legally executed, by the State of Florida since 1976," Meade said.
The state has executed 99 inmates since reinstating the death penalty.
In the last year, at least 213 inmates have died related to COVID-19. In the last two weeks, the state has recorded three more deaths.
"This is about public health, in addition to answering that fundamental question about who we are and how we view each other," Volz said.
Meade said it's also about taxpayer dollars.
"The taxpayers eventually have to foot the bill. If these individuals get sick, they’re going to take up much-needed hospital beds," Meade said.
The I-Team has contacted the Florida Department of Health and the Governor's office several times over the last couple of months, asking about plans to vaccinate inmates.
We are still waiting on answers.