Last month, as of Aug. 27, three state correctional facilities in Baker and Bradford counties were shut down by the Florida Department of Corrections. Now the prison work camp in Gainesville could be next on the list of temporary prison closures in North Central Florida, according to James Baiardi, the president of the state corrections chapter of the Police Benevolent Association.
In a statement about these temporary closures, the Florida Department of Corrections said that those who are currently incarcerated would maintain their custody status.
“These temporary actions do not impact our current population and will not result in the early release of inmates,” according to the statement.
According to Jhody Polk, founder of the Legal Advocacy and Empowerment Hub, there are very few incarcerated people at the Gainesville Work Camp and transporting them to a different facility would be more dangerous for both the incarcerated people and the officers of any facilities involved given the current rise in COVID-19 cases.
Polk said she is receiving phone calls daily from incarcerated people who report COVID-19 symptoms but are not being treated or tested. She fears that these people could be at risk of going untreated at larger facilities while also spreading the virus to other incarcerated people and correctional officers.
Baiardi expressed doubts about the effectiveness of the temporary closures as well. He said the issues of low pay and officers leaving state correctional jobs have been prevalent for a long time and that they will not go away with these temporary closures.
“This is only a Band-Aid, and it’s not going to solve the problem at all,” Baiardi said.
Polk echoed this opinion. She said she would rather see the money that is currently being used to incentivize new hires instead be used to pay correctional officers who are already working.
“At this time, how are they not able not just to equip [correctional officers] with more money to do their job, but equipping them with the resources they need to do their job, and that is to be able to take care of individuals who are inside of those facilities,” Polk said.
She also voiced concern that incentivizing new hires with money could lead to violence.
The Florida Department of Corrections has not yet released specific information regarding the Gainesville Work Camp, but the plan cited in a press release states that incarcerated people and correctional officers at smaller work camps and annexes will be moved to larger facilities in an attempt to address staffing issues.