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Lawsuit says Wayne County Sheriff, jails not protecting inmates from the coronavirus

wayne county sheriff headquarters exteriors
Paulette Parker
Michigan Radio

Attorneys on behalf of five inmates in Wayne County jails have sued Sheriff Benny Napoleon and jail officials over what they claim are unsanitary and unsafe conditions during the pandemic — exposing inmates to "an unconstitutional risk of substantial harm."

The lawsuit says inmates are unable to meaningfully protect themselves against the coronavirus.  From the lawsuit, filed late Monday:

Contrary to public claims, the people detained inside have limited and, at times no access to soap, cleaning supplies, or personal protective equipment, Kleenex, and paper towels; they sparingly receive clean clothing, linens, and towels; in many cases, they sleep and eat within a couple of feet and, at times,inches of one another; they must wait days to receive medical attention; and, frequently, requests for medical attention are dismissed or punished.

Ashley Carter is an attorney with Advancement Project — a group against mass incarceration.
She says incoming inmates are only kept in isolation for three days, before they are placed in the general population, rather than the 14 days recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, and inmates are also being denied testing when they exhibit symptoms of COVID-19. 

"In some cases, individuals are told that unless you're dying, you're not going to receive any medical care," says Carter.  "And it's also physically impossible to socially distance inside of these jails."

Carter says the jail should release medically vulnerable inmates, and follow CDC guidelines for those who remain in the jails.

The Wayne County Sheriff's office says it does not comment on pending litigation.

Lawsuits have also been filed against Oakland County over similar conditions in its jail, as well as against the Michigan Department of Corrections.

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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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