Drive by protest for inmate safety circles Florida State Capitol

Published: Apr. 13, 2020 at 6:33 PM EDT
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By: Emma Wheeler | WCTV Eyewitness News

April 13, 2020

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- Dozens are standing up for Florida state prisoners, asking for the release of some inmates to protect against COVID-19.

On Monday cars circled the Florida State Capitol demanding the "compassionate release" of prison inmates, saying the virus is putting their lives at risk and turning prisons in to a death trap.

The 'socially distance protest' was meant to gain the attention of state leaders, Governor Ron DeSantis and The Florida Department of Corrections.

Debra Bennett is the Florida State Organizer of the National Council of Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls. She spent almost 20 years at Lowell Correctional.

She says inmates do not have access to protective equipment, and there's no space for social distancing.

"It's a death sentence even if you're not sentenced to death. It's not fair," Bennett said. "I lived there for almost two decades, and I still care about a lot of people there. Even if you've never been to prison, jails and prisons are a part of our community. We can't pick and choose who is going to live and who is going to die. That's playing God, and that's not fair."

On Monday, Department of Corrections officials said they are working on making cloth masks for everyone inside the walls of the state prisons. But the group says lives are already at stake.

"Prisons are not a place for COVID-19 and we all know that," said Marie Rattigan with Dream Defenders. "They can't do social distancing in prisons, so why would they neglect people in there? They're all human just like we all are."

The groups plans to continue their protest in other counties across the state, after already protesting in Gainesville and in Palm Beach County. They expect to be in Orange County later this week, saying they won't stop until their voices are heard.

In a statement from the Department of Corrections, officials said:

"Release dates have not been affected by this health emergency. FDC does not have the legal authority to release inmates prior to completion of their sentence. FDC ensures inmates serve their court-ordered sentence in accordance with Florida law."