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Four prisons in partial lockdown as COVID-19 cases rise

Exterior of fence and prison grounds
Katie Raymond
Michigan Radio

The Michigan Department of Corrections has placed inmates at four prisons on partial lockdown as the number of inmates testing positive for COVID-19 rose over the weekend.

As of 6:00 p.m. Monday, 27 inmates at Macomb Correctional Facility tested positive for COVID-19, and 29 at Parnell Correctional Facility, a minimum security men's prison in Jackson County.

Eight cases are at Lakeland and seven at Women's Huron Valley Correctional Facilities.  

Dwight Henley is an inmate at Macomb Correctional. He calls the prison's initial response to COVID-19 "a failure."

"This could all have been prevented with more extreme measures from the very start," he says.

Henley says he is glad they finally initiated a lockdown, but he's worried it will be too little, too late.

"They seem to behind the curve, sort of like the whole United States," says Henley.  "They seem to be fighting to catch up. The procedures and processes evolve in response to what's happening as opoosed to being proactive, and getting there before things get worse."

Henley also sees problems with the way the lockdown is being implemented.  He says in his facility, inmates have to leave their cells to use the shared bathrooms. He says some corrections officers are making sure inmates keep a proper distance from each other - but others are more lax, allowing 8-10 inmates to interact socially in close proximity in the bathrooms.

Currently, each prison has the ability to separate inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19 from the rest of the population, according to MDOC spokesman Chris Gautz, and also to quarantine inmates who came into close contact with positive cases.

But Gautz says the DOC has struggled for a long time finding enough nurses to work in state prisons. Right now, there are enough, he says, but only because the department has been able to transfer some nurses to the facilities that are experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases.

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Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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