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Florida Department of Corrections sued over failure to provide public records related to COVID-19 policies

Tallahassee, FL -- Florida’s public records law requires government entities to operate transparently, which is especially crucial in the midst of the public health crisis caused by COVID-19.  But almost two months after the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) requested information from the Florida Department of Corrections (FDC)  about its policies to deal with the pandemic in Florida’s bloated prison system, the state has failed to comply with its obligations.


On Friday, SPLC sued in Florida’s 2nd Judicial Circuit asking the court to compel FDC to respond to two public records requests, which were made on March 20 and March 25. 


The following is a comment from Shalini Goel Agarwal, senior supervising attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center in Florida.


“Crowded prisons are ripe targets for the spread of COVID-19. Hundreds of incarcerated people in Florida’s prisons have tested positive for COVID-19 and thousands more have been exposed. But despite the dangers this poses to Floridians inside and outside the prisons, FDC has not been transparent in how it’s dealing with this crisis. 


“The public has a right to know how FDC is handling COVID-19 in the prisons, which incarcerate nearly 96,000 people, including a substantial number who are elderly or medically vulnerable and thus at heightened risk from the virus. FDC’s lack of transparency prevents the public from fully understanding the conditions inside Florida prisons during the pandemic and effectively advocating for improvements.


“While FDC has acknowledged our request, it has provided very little information about its policies and procedures to deal with COVID-19. The law does not allow FDC to respond when it feels like it because of the pandemic; because of the pandemic, FDC must comply now.”


The original public records requests that SPLC submitted in March can be viewed here and here. They were submitted as exhibits A and B to Thursday’s court filing. 


The actual court filing can be seen here.