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Advocates For The Incarcerated Push For COVID-19 Vaccinations

Desmond Meade. Photo: Matthew Peddie, WMFE
Desmond Meade. Photo: Matthew Peddie, WMFE

Florida governor Ron DeSantis has made it a priority to vaccinate the state’s elderly population. Along with frontline healthcare workers, they’ve been first in line for COVID-19 vaccines. But there’s another population that’s uniquely vulnerable to COVID-19: people who are behind bars. 

Desmond Meade, who made a name for himself advocating for the restoration for voting rights of returning citizens says coronavirus in prison is a public health crisis and it’s time the state government prioritized prisoners for vaccination. Meade is the executive director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which has taken up the cause of people who are incarcerated during the pandemic. 

"Now that the vaccine is starting to roll out, we're saying okay, government, you missed your opportunity to stem the flow of people contracting COVID in prisons, but here you have a second chance to do the right thing," says Meade.

"And and doing the right thing means prioritizing vaccinating people who are incarcerated, as well as the people who are in charge of guarding the people who are incarcerated."

Meade says the FRRC sprang into action once the pandemic hit to distribute PPE to prisons.

"We have distributed hundreds of thousands of surgical mask and N-95 masks, to correctional officers and sheriffs and surgical masks to people who are incarcerated in jails and prisons from Key West, which is Monroe County, all the way to Escambia County, all the way across to Duvall County, and all points in between."

He says the work he and his organization is doing reflects a broader struggle to change the way society treats people who are incarcerated.

"One of the things that's very important to our organization, is to shift that narrative that, that not everyone who commits a felony should be written off for the rest of their life. Not everyone who commits a felony should lose the right to vote and and forfeit the right to be treated with dignity."