Florida inmates will begin making face masks for prison workers

Face masks have been ordered for all inmates and staff in the state prison system’s 143 facilities, Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Mark Inch said.
Walkway. Interior photos of Blackwater River Correctional Facility. 
photo credit: Florida Department of Corrections
Walkway. Interior photos of Blackwater River Correctional Facility. photo credit: Florida Department of Corrections [ Florida Department of Corrections ]
Published April 11, 2020|Updated April 12, 2020

While the number of Florida inmates testing positive for the coronavirus continues to climb, the state’s Department of Corrections announced Saturday that all inmates and staff in its 143 facilities will soon receive the recommended cloth face coverings — some made by the inmates themselves.

In a release posted to the Florida Department of Corrections website Saturday, the state’s largest government agency provided a brief overview of its plan to transition some inmates’ clothing manufacturing jobs to producing face masks. The masks will be made with a template developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that was provided to the nonprofit manufacturing company that oversees the state’s prison industries — Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises, known as PRIDE Enterprises, Inc.

“It’s critical we take all precautions necessary to minimize the potential risk to the inmate population and staff charged with their care and custody,” Department of Corrections Secretary Mark Inch said in the notice. “Due to already existing clothing manufacturing infrastructure, FDC and PRIDE are uniquely situated to respond quickly to the agency’s initial high demand for cloth face coverings.”

Related: COVID-19 cases soar at this Florida Panhandle prison

The inmate-made face masks first will be issued to correctional officers, probation officers and staff in high-risk geographic areas, then to institutions with large at-risk inmate populations.

Inch’s Friday letter to the “families and loved ones” of the roughly 94,000 inmates currently incarcerated in state prisons explained that all other cloth face coverings ordered by FDC will be given out first to its 24,000 employees and prison staff, “because they are the greater risk to your loved ones.”

“But over the next two weeks, we hope to have all our staff and your loved ones in cloth face coverings,” that letter said. “We have sufficient protective equipment for inmates displaying symptoms, and for those staff that work in direct contact with those in medical isolation.”

Until the masks begin to trickle into state prisons, all staff have been authorized to wear their own personal face coverings while on the job. None of the announcements addressed whether inmates are allowed to do the same.

Related: Prisoners are old, sick and sitting ducks for coronavirus. What now?

The number of inmates who tested positive for COVID-19 at Blackwater River Correctional Facility in Santa Rosa County has skyrocketed to 34, according to the latest numbers from the Department of Corrections.

All but one of the state’s 35 inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19 are located at the Milton facility, a private prison operated by the Geo Group. The other prisoner is housed at Sumter Correctional Institution in Bushnell, according to corrections officials.

In addition to the 34 inmates at Blackwater, six employees at the prison have been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus.

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Inch’s letter to families promised that state prisons have instituted rigorous screening criteria to keep out staff that might be affected. All potentially impacted staff are sent home for 14 days to self-quarantine, he said, and every inmate that comes from an outside appointment or transfers from a jail also goes into a 14-day quarantine.

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