Lee County Jail, inmate at odds over Covid numbers

Posted at 10:14 PM, Aug 24, 2021

FORT MYERS, FLA — Covid-19 concerns, while incarcerated.

That's a reality many people are facing. And Michael Shawn Brown is in one of them.

"I have rheumatoid arthritis so my immune system is already shot," he said, "As far as prisoners, 90 percent of the jail is on quarantine."

He's in the Lee County Jail and says his fears have skyrocketed because the staff isn't following proper protocol.

"The [corrections officers] are not wearing masks except when they want to," he said.

He also claims that inmates aren't being quarantined properly.

"They pulled two guys out here and said that they got covid right? So they put them on quarantine and then they turn around and bring those same two guys back and yet we're still on quarantine for three more days," he said.

FOX 4 reached out to the Lee County Sheriff's Office for details. They released the following statement:

Since the start of COVID, all incoming inmates are routinely quarantined for 14-days for observation of any developing symptoms. Inmates that develop symptoms are then tested for COVID, and housed separately pending the test results. If the inmate tests positive, they are placed in isolation, and remain there until they no longer exhibit symptoms and have met all other CDC guidelines. Consistent with the current national experience, the number of positive inmates has increased recently, and as such the number of inmates in quarantine and isolation has also increased. In the event an inmate tests positive for COVID, all inmates in that housing unit are placed in quarantine as a precautionary measure. Pursuant to CDC guidelines, all corrections staff wear face masks and other protective equipment as necessary whenever they are in close contact with inmates. Court cases involving inmates who are symptomatic or have tested positive are handled via virtual proceedings.

Rob Manch previously requested stats and we are diligently working to fulfill that request.

But Brown's fiance, Ashleigh Wright, isn't buying that and she emailed FOX 4 to get some answers.

"I feel absolutely helpless you try calling and contacting the upper hands and you don't get nowhere," she said.

We reached out to two prisoners' rights advocates, Neil Volz of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, and Su Ming Yeh of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, for some guidance.

"While I don't know specifically what's going on with the situation in lee county, I do know that anybody in jail is innocent until proven guilty and has rights," said Volz.

"People who are incarcerated absolutely have the right to be protected from Covid-19," said Yeh.

But what do you do in a case like this, where the jail is saying one thing, but an inmate claims something else is going on?

Yeh says inmates can lean on advocacy groups and their loved ones for help. And adds that they can even pursue a lawsuit if the situation warrants it.

But first, she recommends they file a grievance within that facility.

"It's like a complaint on a piece of paper submit that. Unfortunately, that's not always effective in getting immediate changes but that is an important mechanism to alert the prison that incarcerated people have concerns," she said.

Brown also says that another way jails can help cut down the spread of the virus in inmates, would be to release non-violent offenders on bail. It's a practice that we saw done across the country early on in the pandemic.

If you or a loved one is incarcerated and are looking for more resources on inmates' rights, Volz recommends visiting these websites: