Founded on April 5, 2020, the prison abolitionist hotline included by December a total of five lead organizers and about 20 active volunteers. They have received calls from hundreds of incarcerated individuals — calls that exposed the systemic medical, hygienic, and mental neglect that incarcerated people face in South Florida jails.
The majority of callers — 192 of 254 — had pre-existing medical conditions or comorbidities that made them especially vulnerable to the virus and at least 137 reported medical neglect and failure to follow safety protocols recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. These included failing to provide adequate testing, social distancing, quarantine procedures, hygienic precautions and personal protective equipment (PPE).
In one instance, a caller had waited eight days to receive treatment for a broken bone. In another, a person was denied medication necessary to manage diabetes Several individuals who needed, requested, and qualified for COVID-19 tests were denied testing.
At Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO) jails, up to 93 percent of all those incarcerated have yet to even be convicted and/or sentenced. Some will wait days, weeks, months or even years to conclude their trial.
During the pandemic, these delays put them at greater risk of contracting the virus.
On November 1, CHIP released a 20-page report on data it collected. It showed that five out of every 10 callers reported conditions that increased their risk of severe illness if they contacted COVID-19, ranging from asthma and diabetes to HIV and sickle cell disease.
Beyond the physical health risks, the lack of adequate response has led to mental health problems. Instead of proper treatment, Broward Main Jail had implemented 21- to 23-hour a day lockdowns since mid-March.
Lockdowns contradict CDC recommendations for recreation and open space to maintain health and wellness. Lockdowns also affect psychological health, as well as the ability to call legal counsel and loved ones, mask washing, and personal hygiene.
Through their advocacy, CHIP has been successful in getting the BSO to meet some of its demands. That includes successfully having KN95 masks distributed in September and October and adding recreation time, though minimal.
CHIP is calling for additional measures to ensure future compliance with health and safety laws. These include termination of the BSO contract with Wellpath, the private health-care provider; increased transparency in the grievance process and about the severity of COVID-19 in jails; expanded access to COVID-19 testing; free unlimited phone calls from jails; and an end to prisoners being charged for mental and physical health care.
As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.
Already a subscriber? Login