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Advocates call for protection of inmates from COVID-19

Heaping disease upon incarceration is cruel & unusual punishment

Criminal justice reform advocates from across the state called on the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) to take steps to prevent the spread of Covid19 behind bars. To date, there have been over 25,000 cases in the system, leading to at least 130 deaths. Inmates don't have the liberty to take many of the measures available to those on the outside to avoid the virus. The state's failure to take adequate steps to protect people in their custody constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

Antoniese Grant, President, Nation Outside of Jackson, MI

Antoniese Grant, Regional coordinator of Nation Outside of Jackson, MI says the phones in the prison system are a perfect illustration of what social distancing is like. The floor has X marks to stand on so that people remain six feet apart, but the phones they use are only two feet apart.

"Because people in our prisons and jails have been viewed as other than human, the public doesn't seem to understand the fierce urgency of now.”

He says Rama Tyson, a friend who is currently serving time, has told him "It's impossible for inmates to social distance in these poorly ventilated prisons. We are stacked one on top of another, literally."

Patrick Gallagher, Criminal justice reform advocate, Michigan United

“Director Heidi Washington and her staff moved at a glacial pace to adapt to the changing facts on the ground and live up to the MDOC’s explicit mission statement to ‘provide humane and protective custodial care’,” said Patrick Gallagher, a criminal justice reform advocate with Michigan United. “Their dereliction of duty was exemplified in their failure to produce a comprehensive pandemic plan until November, their failure to reduce the inmate population to prevent the spread of the virus, and their failure to answer any meaningful questions from the public and press along the way.”

Thomas Abt, Council on Criminal Justice

This coalition that also includes American Friends, Parents United, and Helping Those Left Behind also hosted a town hall meeting later in the day featuring Thomas Abt of the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ), who presented their national commission's final report on Covid 19 and the criminal justice system. Among other things, the report found that prisons were not prepared for a crisis of this magnitude, and duration and responses by criminal justice agencies were inconsistent. CCJ recommends that these facilities exceed official guidance and institute universal masking and testing. They should also strive to limit contact between inmates by reducing density, both by finding alternatives to incarceration and consider candidates for early release.

“This virus does not discriminate. If you are in a congregate setting, whether it’s a luxury cruise ship, nursing home, or a correctional facility, you are at elevated risk for the virus,” said Abt. And if we want to stop the spread of the virus, we shouldn’t discriminate between these settings either.

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