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Conditions at Oakland County Jail before 6th Circuit Court of Appeals

Inmates in Michigan's county jails could be housed in smaller cells under a bill passed by the Michigan house this week.
Inmates in Michigan's county jails could be housed in smaller cells under a bill passed by the Michigan house this week.

Updated: 1:19 p.m., June 22, 2020

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals is hearing a case on Monday filed by inmates of the Oakland County Jail.

Inmates say they are denied basic sanitation items like soap and disinfectant to clean surfaces and shared items during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Some inmates say the jail uses transfers to a unit that has active COVID-19 infections as a punishment, for refusing job duties that might expose them to the coronavirus, or complaining about unsafe conditions.

The lawsuit was filed by Civil Rights Corps, Advancement Project National Office, Pitt McGehee, and the ACLU of Michigan. The law firm of Gupta Wessler is assisting with the appeal.

ACLU Attorney Phil Mayor says the jail is also not trying to distance prisoners. There might be eight inmates in one cell, and three in the one next to it, for example.

And he says the jail is not protecting older inmates or those with conditions like heart disease or diabetes, who are at much higher risk of getting COVID-19.

"The jail has no plan or policy whatsoever for providing different housing based on the medical vulnerability of people, when making housing decisions, when deciding how many people to crowd into a cell, for example," says Mayor.

Oakland County officials say their COVID-19 plan is sufficient and they say inmates are not telling the truth about conditions in the jail.  

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled against the ACLU of Ohio in a similar case against a federal prison.

Mayor says the court accepted prison officials' word that the prison had an adequate pandemic plan in place and was following it. 

Mayor says the difference here is the federal district judge in the Oakland County Jail case held three days of hearings and took testimony from inmates as well as an epidemiologist who toured the jail. He says the ACLU submitted 18 affidavits from inmates confirming the conditions in the jail.

This story was updated to reflect the names of law firms representing the plaintiffs.

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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