SANDERSON, Fla. – Inmates and their families are speaking out about a COVID-19 outbreak at Baker Correctional Institution, saying safety protocols are not being followed.
As of Wednesday, 561 inmates and 25 staff members at the facility in Sanderson had tested positive for the coronavirus, with 294 pending inmate tests, according to the Florida Department of Corrections. In comparison, a week ago, 20 inmates and 17 staff members had tested positive.
After News4Jax reported Friday on the outbreak at Baker Correctional, multiple inmates and their families reached out, saying there’s hardly any social distancing and there’s mass confusion over who’s waiting on test results, who’s positive and who’s not. They described an overall lack of organization. The state Department of Corrections told News4Jax staffers are doing all that they can.
A woman, whom we’ll call “Jane,” is patiently waiting for “John,” her husband who is now on the tail end of his two-year sentence, to be released from Baker Correctional.
“In last May 2019, he went in, and he’ll be released in about 4 ½ months on Jan. 7,” said Jane. “He’s awesome. I love him. I’ve known him since I was 19 years old.”
But until he’s released, Jane worries every day for his safety after hundreds of inmates, including her husband, have tested positive for COVID-19.
“He’s calling me on edge. You know, he never calls and complains to me. He’s there, you know, to finish his time and come home, but I can hear in his voice that he’s scared,” Jane said.
Jane was able to call John and put him on speakerphone for News4Jax. He said he just got his test result Wednesday after being tested July 31.
According to John, what the Department of Corrections says it’s doing to maintain sanitation and separation is not the reality.
“They say that there’s social distancing inside the dorms. There is no social distancing. Our bunks are 3 feet apart. They have 75 inmates in each individual dorm,” he said. “Just this past week, they moved 30 people out of our dorm who have been deemed positive of COVID-19. And they tell us on bravo two side that we are not positive cases, that we are negative. Yet, they put other people in place for the ones that they’ve taken out of our dorm into our dorm, and then the next day, they move them out because they’ve tested positive.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections told News4Jax all Baker Correctional staffers and inmates were issued face coverings and are required to wear face them. And, according to the DOC, Baker Correctional is now providing medical services and meals to inmates within their cells, and temperature checks are being conducted daily.
“Absolutely not. The masks that they give us, they are not CDC approved. The masks are made by inmates here at Baker CI. They are made from scrap material that’s used to make clothes in here which makes it very hard to breathe because they are layers of threes,” John said.
Others have reached out to News4Jax about the conditions inside the facility. One inmate wrote News4Jax he’s an insulin-dependent diabetic who has tested positive for COVID-19
“I’m in a dorm with 75 inmates in total. It’s two dorms on the west end of the compound that’s housing positive (infected) inmates,” he wrote.
He also wrote the prison allowed “the staff and inmates that didn’t show signs of (infection) to be mixed and mingled with the rest of the facility. The person who is in charge of housing inmates started mixing all the dorms up.”
He went on to write: “I feel neglected, and mistreated, and left for dead.”
“It’s just unethical. It just feels wrong. Yes, they are prisoners. Yes, they are there to do their time. This is not a five-star hotel — I completely understand that. But as far as keeping people safe, it should still be a little bit important,” Jane said.
When asked about these reports from multiple inmates, the DOC on Wednesday emailed News4Jax a response, saying those who have tested positive will remain in medical isolation until they recover, and those who have tested negative are also placed in different housing. The DOC also said inmates who have come in close contact with a person who has tested positive or who are showing symptoms are kept in medical quarantine.
The DOC continues to assert staffers are maintaining a rigorous cleaning schedule and social distancing policy.
John, who is diabetic and asthmatic and now has five months left on his sentence, wrote the governor and his judge, asking to be released on house arrest with an ankle monitor.
“It was a no,” Jane said.
They got back a letter denying early release.
“I am Type 2 diabetic. I am asthmatic, as well as other people here. I haven’t given the institution any problems. I’ve completed so many different areas and curriculum that they’ve given me for aftercare. I’ve even went so far as to facilitate other folks into the aftercare reentry program,” John explained. “And they’re telling me no.”
The letter said the state denied early release because it would discourage the state from conducting any further plea agreement.
In Duval County, since March, hundreds of nonviolent offenders inside the county jail have been released to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.