The presence of COVID-19 in Michigan jails and prisons has spurred calls for reform and expedited release programs.
As of April 22nd, there have been more than 650 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 25 deaths of Michigan’s incarcerated population according to Michigan.gov. In facilities where social distancing is nearly impossible, feelings of fear and dread are running rampant.
“It’s almost an impossibility for anyone who’s incarcerated to practice the things that public officials say are necessary to curb this pandemic,” - Richard Griffin, Smart Justice Campaign Field Organizer with the ACLU of Michigan
Listen: COVID-19 continues to spread throughout Michigan jails and prisons.
Curt Guyette, Editor At Large for the ACLU of Michigan Communications department, says the stress level inside Michigan jails and prisons has only increased with the slow response. “The situation is beyond urgent. This is weeks and weeks late to address this,” says Guyette.
Guyette is an advocate for increased prison releases amid COVID-19, especially for those nearing the end of their sentence. He also says the state needs to be more cautious about who they are putting in jail. “Stop putting people in jail unless they absolutely need to be there to keep them from cycling through,” says Guyette.
Richard Griffin, a returning citizen and Smart Justice Campaign Field Organizer with the ACLU of Michigan, says social distancing inside jails and prisons is simply not doable. “It’s almost an impossibility for anyone who’s incarcerated to practice the things that public officials say are necessary to curb this pandemic,” says Griffin. According to Griffin, exposing men and women currently incarcerated to COVID-19 is essentially giving folks who are incarcerated the death penalty.
Ashley Lucas, former director of the Prison Creative Arts Project at the University of Michigan, says that the situation inside Michigan prisons is harrowing. “People inside prisons are absolutely terrified right now. They are literally living in cages…it’s an absolutely terrifying situation,” says Lucas. She says its wrenching to have to temporarily suspend the Prison Creative Arts Project, a program that Lucas says celebrates peoples’ lives and allows individuals the space to assert their own humanity.
William Lopez, a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and Faculty Director of Public Scholarship at the National Center for Institutional Diversity, says people in immigration detention are facing similar issues to those who are incarcerated in Michigan jails and prisons. “Folks who are detained who are scheduled to be deported are no longer able to be deported,” says Lopez.
Due to the halt in deportation folks are caught in detention facilities and are unaware when they will be able to leave. He says there is an enormous amount of psychological and emotional stress among the individuals stuck in this limbo.
This story was written by Detroit Today Associate Producer Clare Brennan.