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Appeals court quashes plan to release vulnerable inmates from Oakland County Jail

Jack Amick
Creative Commons

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has delivered a blow to an effort to release medically-vulnerable inmates from the Oakland County Jail.

Inmates and civil rights groups filed a lawsuit in April. They said Oakland County wasn’t doing enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the jail, and asked the court to order that inmates with medical conditions be released.

Federal District Court Judge Linda Parker agreed with that.She ordered the county to turn over the names of vulnerable inmates so the court could design a process to free them.

But Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard’s office filed an appeal. It argued the jail was doing enough to contain COVID-19, and said the order would force them to release inmates with "violent criminal histories."

On Thursday, the Appeals Court agreed, overturning Parker’s injunction and ordering that the inmates remain incarcerated for now. The court found that the inmates were unlikely to win their case.

In a statement, Bouchard hailed the ruling overturning the release process he had previously argued would set a dangerous precedent.

“As it has been since the pandemic began, the Oakland County Jail continues to implement a significant number of procedures and preventative measures designed to protect the inmate population from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Bouchard said. “The Oakland County Jail is pleased to announce there are currently no positive cases of COVID-19 in the Oakland County Jail. No Oakland County Jail inmate has been hospitalized because of COVID-19, nor has an Oakland County Jail inmate died because of COVID-19. These objective facts are proof the Oakland County Jail’s procedures and preventative measures are working."

Lawyers for the inmates expressed disappointment, but vowed to fight on.

“The case is not over or reversed. The injunction is simply put on pause until the appellate court can address the flawed and dangerous arguments made by Oakland County,” said Thomas Harvey, a lead attorney for the Advancement Project, one of the groups behind the lawsuit. “We look forward to making our argument before the appellate court, and getting back to talking about the release of the medically-vulnerable detainees at the Oakland County Jail.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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