Anxiety is a major issue for inmates as they undergo regular Covid testing is in short supply

The enclosed spaces as well as the transient prisoner population and guards make jails especially vulnerable to the spread of Covid-19


Brandi Jefferson calls her daughter and brother each throughout the day, at Broward County Jail, located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which is where she's been since March 2020. As the primary caregiver, Jefferson worries about their long-distance separation and inquires about how she's doing with her extended family. It was all just the two for a time, and she's worried about not being able to capture numerous moments, including two birthday celebrations for her daughter in the midst of a global health situation.

Jefferson 37 asks her brother how the world reacts to the outbreak that occurred during her time inside a cell, because she is constantly in fear of becoming sick in the prison's confines. She explained that she is constantly encountering people who are symptomatic, who are new to jail and she's scared to think they're suffering from an illness. Every cough has an issue for her since she doesn't have the space to separate herself from newly incarcerated, possibly sick individuals. In addition, without regular Covid-19 tests she began making additional masks using cloth or socks to safeguard herself.

"When a new person comes in, I ask the guards, 'When are we going to get tested? When are we going to get tested?'" Jefferson explained. "And they say, 'Wednesday,' then they say they're going to push it to Thursday."

Brandi Jefferson.

Brandi Jefferson.Courtesy Jefferson family

Jefferson claimed she's only had her blood tested twice during the span of 18 months in prison.

Closed-off spaces and a sporadic number of prisoners and guards make prisons susceptible to the spread of Covid-19 which is a virus that can be transmitted via air particles.

Broward County Jail's positive cases of Covid-19 soared while the more infectious delta strain continued to grow and went from one positive test in the month of July, to 129 positive cases in September, while the jail struggled to adhere to the requirements of testing for Covid-19, an issue since the start in the outbreak.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Florida and Disability Rights Florida filed a lawsuit against the Broward County Sheriff's Office in June 2020, claiming circumstances that may cause the spreading of Covid-19 and a lack of thorough testing for those who are admitted to jail as well as those who are already in the jail.

"They're not doing comprehensive testing at the jail when that's really the only way to know who's coming into the facility with Covid, and that's the only way to treat people appropriately medically," said Nancy Rosenbloom, a senior counsel for the ACLU. "It's impossible to do social distancing and all the other things in a crowded building where people aren't allowed to leave."

The group of prisoners along with the Broward sheriff's office came to an agreement to settle the matter in November. Then a federal court was able to approve the agreement in May. The settlement contained guidelines on screening incarcerated persons at the time of intake, and securing those who are positive.

However, the jail was not at first in compliance with the terms of the settlement according to the ACLU claimed. Based on the data Broward County Jail sent the ACLU in one week in August the jail only checked 173 out of 499 people who were admitted to the jail, which was about 34 percent.

A representative from the Broward sheriff's department said that this jail "is meeting or exceeding its obligations under the settlement agreement and was doing so even prior to the filing of the lawsuit." However, information from the jail, provided to the ACLU in the context in the settlement show that it has only recently begun to conduct more thorough intake tests. A hearing in court to enforce the settlement terms was scheduled for October. 21.

The co-counsel of Rosenbloom is Benjamin Stevenson, a lawyer at the ACLU of Florida, said the hearing was necessary despite recent tests at intake, because the response to the pandemic must have been swift and ongoing.