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Massive new outbreaks of COVID-19 at some Michigan prisons

Some Michigan prisons are accelerating the return of staff after a positive coronavirus test.
Office of Legislative Corrections Ombudsman
Some Michigan prisons are accelerating the return of staff after a positive coronavirus test.

COVID-19 has been raging through two Michigan prisons in recent weeks, with large outbreaks in others.

Nearly three quarters of the inmates at Kinross Correctional have tested positive for COVID-19. The facility is located in Kincheloe, a town in the U.P.

More than half of the inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 at Central Michigan Correctional Facility in St. Louis, Michigan.

Devon Glenn was one of them. He became seriously ill two weeks ago, and began saying his goodbyes to family.

"I was 100% I was going to die," says Glenn. "My symptoms were cold chills, headache, extreme pain throughout my body, followed by hot flashes and it really felt like the devil had ahold of my lungs."

Glenn says thankfully, he survived without having to be hospitalized, and he is now on the mend.

Both the Central Michigan and Kinross facilities are open space pole barn style facilities, where eight-man units are separated only by a few feet of wall in between each.

"It's literally impossible to socially distance in here," says Glenn. "You live in eight man cubes. If you get on the phone you're about two feet away (from the next person), if that, so every unit here, you're either a close contact, meaning you were in contact with someone positive, or you are positive."

Since the pandemic began, including the recent outbreaks, 75% or more of the inmates at four state prisons have tested positive for COVID-19. More than one half of inmates have tested positive at five other facilities, including the recent outbreak at Central Michigan Correctional Facility.

Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Chris Gautz says as of Wednesday, 43 inmates are hospitalized. He says hospitals in the U.P. are completely full, so the department moved about 100 COVID-19 positive inmates with comorbid conditions to a newly re-opened unit in Macomb County, so they'd be closer to hospitals that could take them in if they became severely ill.

The Michigan Parole Board has been speeding up paroles for those who have reached their minimum sentences, but that work has been hampered by the prison's shutdown of pre-release classes, that are often required of inmates before they can rejoin society.

Advocates for inmates say the situation is a humanitarian crisis. They have called on Governor Whitmer to issue commutations for inmates nearing the completion of their minimum sentences. Michigan law requires inmates to complete their full minimum sentences before they can be considered for parole.

Whitmer has declined to take such action.

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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