TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The Florida Department of Corrections has suspended visits at all state prisons, as the state attempts to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19.
In-person visits with prisoners at all facilities have been stopped until April 5, corrections officials announced late Wednesday.
"This decision has been made in close consultation with our partners at the Florida Department of Health and with correctional best practices being reviewed nationwide. We look forward to resuming normal visitation as soon as possible," agency officials said in a prepared statement.
Inmates will have "access to their loved ones through mail, phone calls and video visitations," officials said.
Attorneys, however, will still be allowed to visit inmates in person, corrections department spokeswoman Michelle Glady told The News Service of Florida.
Currently, there are "no known or suspected cases" of coronavirus in the prison system, officials said. But Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters on Wednesday that he approved the visitation suspension as a precaution.
"I didn’t see any problems with it and I think that is the way to go," the governor said.
According to state health officials, there are 34 Florida-related cases of COVID-19. As of Thursday morning, 26 Florida residents have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, and two of them have died.
A 63-year-old New York man who traveled to the state for bike week has tested positive for the highly contagious disease, officials announced late Wednesday night.
The temporary shut-down of prison visitation comes as state officials work to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 to Florida’s elderly population, who are highly vulnerable to the deadly coronavirus.
DeSantis’ administration announced Wednesday it will block people from visiting residents at long-term care facilities if they have recently traveled internationally, been on cruise ships or been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
Unlike the restrictions imposed on nursing homes, the corrections department has issued a blanket suspension of visitation, even by people who have not travelled internationally or come into contact with someone diagnosed with CODIV-19.
DeSantis said the state is implementing "common-sense measures" at the correctional facilities.
Florida’s prison population --- the third largest in the nation, with roughly 96,000 inmates --- includes thousands of elderly inmates. According to a state analysis, 7,352 inmates currently housed in state prisons are 60 years old or older, and the number is expected to grow substantially over the next decade.
Visits and phone time are widely accepted as a key part of inmates’ rehabilitation and mental health. The state agency said Wednesday it is "fortunate to have more than 30,000 visitors from across the country" every month. Without in-person visitations, the department will be more reliant on for-profit video-calling systems installed at prison facilities.
If you feel sick
The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Questions may also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Email responses will be sent during call center hours.
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