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Response to COVID-19 in Michigan prisons is cruel and unusual punishment, say advocates

Master Sgt. David Eichaker
Air National Guard

So far during the pandemic, more than 62% of Michigan's 40,886 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19.

138 prisoners have died of the infection.

It shouldn't have happened, says Tony Gant, President of the Jackson chapter of Nation Outside, an advocacy organization for Michigan inmates.

"People in prisons and jails have largely been looked at as other than human," says Gant, who spent 20 years incarcerated himself.  "Otherwise, there would be no way we would allow these infection rates and deaths to occur."

Gant and other advocates say inmates should have been among the first groups vaccinated against COVID-19, because they can't take steps to protect themselves from infection.

"The physical make-up of prison makes it impossible to socially distance," he says.  "And the fact that they have not reduced the population makes the problem worse."

Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Chris Gautz says state law does not allow early release of prisoners.

He says all inmates 50 years of age and older will have been offered a vaccine by the end of next week.  

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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.