Corrine Brown wants out of prison over coronavirus fears

Ex-congresswoman says underlying health conditions put her at risk of dying if she gets COVID-19


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Former congresswoman Corrine Brown wants to be released from prison because she believes her underlying health conditions place her at great risk of dying if she were to contract COVID-19, according to a motion filed by her appellate attorney.

The fear of a coronavirus outbreak is widespread among inmates in Florida prisons, according to a report from The News Service of Florida.

Brown, who was convicted of federal corruption, conspiracy, tax evasion and fraud, is serving a five-year sentence in FCI Coleman, a federal facility in Sumterville that has already had an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease this year.

At the time of that outbreak, Brown was given an antibiotic based on her symptoms but was not given a diagnosis, her attorney, William Kent, explained in the motion.

Kent filed the emergency motion for compassionate release on Brown’s behalf Wednesday but has since withdrawn the motion after speaking “at length” with prosecutors. He said he believes it would help Brown’s case to obtain “documentation and records to better support her assertions" and then refile the motion.

READ: Brown’s motion for compassionate release

Under federal law, compassionate release allows an inmate to be released when there are “extraordinary and compelling reasons.”

Brown filed a request for compassionate release with the warden at FCI Coleman on Feb. 26. She got a form letter denial on Monday. Kent filed the initial motion with the court two days later.

According to Wednesday’s filing, the prosecutor from the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tysen Duva, opposes the motion, which argues that Brown will not pose a danger to the community if released but that her own health is at risk if she remains in prison.

Brown suffers from hypertension, diabetes, a heart murmur, acid reflux, sleep apnea and cataracts. Since being incarcerated, Brown's health has “declined considerably” and has “deteriorated to an alarming degree,” according to the motion.

A diaphragmatic/hiatal hernia is causing a strain on her breathing and her heart. The size of her heart has increased since she’s been in prison, probably caused by hypertension, and acid reflux and the enlarged heart are making her newly-diagnosed asthma worse, according to the motion.

“These conditions would prove fatal were she to become infected with COVID-19,” Kent argues. "All of these conditions are now experienced under the constant threat of COVID-19 infection, which given Brown’s age and medical conditions put her at great risk of death.”

Kent argues that conditions for Brown have reached a “crisis stage” and that Brown was notified this week that her entire unit is being moved to double-bunk with another unit because the facility is taking in two infected inmates from a county jail.

Kent points out the inmate Brown will be bunking with is coughing.

Coronavirus causing concern in state prisons

Four inmates and 37 employees at 17 prisons and three probation offices throughout Florida have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.

The spread of the virus to inmates and prison workers has fueled panic among detainees and their loved ones. Even before COVID-19 showed up in the state’s prisons, corrections officials canceled face-to-face visitations, cutting off one of the ways families and friends can communicate with inmates.

Corrections officials maintain they are taking many measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

New inmates are placed in quarantine, the temperature of inmates who are in medical quarantine is taken twice daily, and inmates in the general population can ask questions and request a temperature check, the agency said in an email Wednesday morning.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration, however, won’t reveal the number of inmates or workers who have been tested for COVID-19, or how many prisoners are in medical isolation due to the virus.

“I think the lack of information coming from the Florida Department of Corrections is very troubling. We know that once the virus is inside, it is very difficult to contain it and Floridians have a right to know what is happening to 95,000 people in the state,” Southern Poverty Law Center staff attorney Sumayya Saleh told the News Service of Florida on Tuesday.

Corrections officials say inmate testing is determined by a medical professional, who consults with the county health department.

Corrections officials say inmates who have COVID-19 symptoms are placed in some type of medical isolation, which could vary depending on the health condition of the inmate.

“Medical isolation for an inmate could include being isolated alone in an infirmary or in a housing unit with other inmates who were also exposed to the virus,” Department of Corrections spokeswoman Michelle Glady said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, inmates and their loved ones across Florida are bracing for further outbreaks within the state prison system, which has 143 facilities, more than 24,000 employees and roughly 94,000 inmates.

David Denney, an inmate at South Florida Reception Center, told his mother last week that “everybody is on edge” at the Doral prison.

Inmates at the facility do not have access to gloves, hand sanitizer or cleaning supplies, Denney said in a recording of the telephone call provided to the News Service.

Denney, who is serving a two-year sentence for battery, also said inmates are extremely anxious because they know that two workers at the South Florida prison have tested positive for COVID-19.

“We don’t want to get sick because this is not the place to get sick,” he said. “There are not enough respirators. There’s not enough anything. ... It is going to be hell if we get sick.”

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

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