The Michigan Department of Corrections banned nearly all visitors to state prisons in mid-March, to try to prevent the spread of coronavirus among inmates.
But teachers at most prisons are still being told to report to work. The decision is not sitting well with some of them.
One prison teacher emailed Michigan Radio this note:
I am a teacher in one of the facilities. I am still required to teach 4 classes a day. And each class has 15-16 students. I have the ability to send some back, but even then, my classroom is very small and we (the prisoners and myself) are all contained together. Also, if I want to clean my classroom after each class, I have to do it myself. And, hand sanitizer is forbidden. I feel MDOC is not taking the appropriate measures to stop the spread of the virus. In fact, I think having unnecessary classes every day is a danger/risk to me, my family, and the prisoners.
Chris Gautz is a spokesman for the MDOC. He says class sizes have been reduced to keep inmates at a further distance from each other during class, but he says it's necessary to keep the classes going.
That's because the department cannot by law release inmates who have been paroled until they finish their GED, the high school equivalency certificate.
Gautz says the department wants to reduce the prison population as much as possible to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on the prison system, and is trying to speed up paroles, for those who do have a G.E.D.
Gautz was not sure if Governor Gretchen Whitmer has the authority to allow prisoners to be released without finishing a G.E.D.
Michigan Radio did not receive a response from the governor's office by the time of publication.
There are four prisons that are in partial lockdown due to a surge in COVID-19 cases there. GED instruction has been canceled at those four prisons.