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The number of inmates in Michigan prisons testing positive for COVID-19 has more than doubled in just two weeks.

Currently, 2,790 inmates are considered active positive cases.  The number was about 1,200 two weeks ago. The largest number of cases are at Handlon, Brooks, and Central Michigan correctional facilities, with smaller outbreaks at the Bellamy, Egeler, Ionia and Newland facilities.


Corrections Department spokesman Chris Gautz says the dramatic spike reflects what is happening outside the prisons as well.

A chain-link fence and barbed wire
Max Pixel

There's a big outbreak of COVID-19 at the Marquette Branch Prison in the Upper Peninsula.

Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Chris Gautz says it appears that both corrections officers and inmates were routinely failing to wear masks and take other precautions.

He says union officials with the corrections officers union initially claimed the coronavirus was brought into the prison by new inmates from the Chippewa Correctional Facility, transferred to Marquette after a riot, but Gautz says that's clearly not true.

Flickr/creative commons / Jeff Clark, BLM

Updated:  6/18/2020

Sixty eight people have died of COVID-19 so far in Michigan prisons, according to the Michigan Department of Corrections.

It's the second highest number of COVID-19 related deaths in a state prison system in the country, according to the non-profit Marshall Project, which is tracking the cases. Ohio is number one for COVID-19 related inmate deaths.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Starting Monday, Michigan National Guard medical personnel will visit the six prisons in the Upper Peninsula to help the Michigan Department of Corrections conduct mass testing of the inmates.

Prison bars
flickr user Thomas Hawk / http://bit.ly/1xMszCg

A federal district judge has ordered Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard to take steps to protect inmates housed at the jail from the coronavirus.

American Civil Liberties Union Attorney Phil Mayor says the lawsuit was filed because the jail has been exposing inmates to unsafe, inhumane, and degrading conditions.

inmates outside on basketball court
April Van Buren / Michigan Radio

Attorneys, advocates, family members and inmates are calling on Governor Gretchen Whitmer to use her executive authority to reduce prison populations.

As of April 7, ten Michigan prisons had at least one confirmed COVID-19 case among inmates, and fifteen state prison departments or prisons had confirmed COVID-19 cases among staff.

Lakeland Correctional Facility sign
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

A second inmate in a Michigan prison has died of COVID-19

This death is an urgent concern, say advocates.  That's because it happened in a prison that houses many elderly inmates with chronic health conditions.  

The Michigan Department of Corrections says the inmate at Lakeland Correctional in Coldwater was taken to the hospital after testing positive for COVID-19, where he died on April 7. 

DTE Energy | Tree maintenance

The Michigan Department of Corrections has partnered with DTE Energy and IBEW Local 17 to train inmates in trimming trees.

MDOC worked very closely with DTE and IBEW Local 17 to develop the curriculum for the program, located at Parnall Correctional Facility in Jackson. It allows inmates to get hands-on experience. 

prison bars
Flickr / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has signed bills into law that will permit some medically frail and seriously ill inmates to be paroled.

They will be cared for in hospitals, hospices, and nursing homes instead. That means Medicare and Medicaid will pay for the inmates' care, rather than state taxpayer dollars.

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is defending her decision to line-item veto legislation removing $10 million to compensate people wrongfully convicted. The money is needed to replenish the nearly depleted compensation fund.

The money was in legislation to improve transparency and reporting for the compensation fund.

A grouo of student inamtes wearing caps and gowns
Bryce Huffman / Michigan Radio

The first group of student inmates received their associate’s degrees from a program at Calvin College today.

Fifteen men walked out of the fieldhouse at Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia today with their heads held high.

Those men all now have associate’s degrees in administrative leadership.

Larry Conic, a student inmate serving a life sentence for murder, says he wants to help younger inmates since he has no chance of parole.

“But you know what, if I have to stay here, I’m going to spend my time here making other people better,” Conic said.

Razor wire on top of chain-link fence.
Robert Hickerson / Unsplash

The state House has adopted bills that would allow prisoners in advanced stages of illness including cancer and dementia to be paroled for medical reasons.

The House split on the bills with Republicans and Democrats voting on both sides of the issue.

Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP)

A new exhibition opening this week at the University of Michigan aims to demonstrate the creative and intellectual ability of many of Michigan's incarcerated individuals. 

The 22nd Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners features 550 works of art by 450 artists, making it one of the largest exhibits of inmate artwork in the nation. Curators selected work from incarcerated artists in 28 prisons in the Michigan Department of Correction system. Visitors may purchase most of the art on display, with all proceeds going to the artist.

cell block in a prison
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Expanding Medicaid was a key part of the Affordable Care Act. In our state, it's known as Healthy Michigan, and it has meant health care coverage for more than 600,000 people.

But if you wind up in the criminal justice system, even if its just pre-trial detention, Medicaid benefits turn off immediately.

Researchers at the University of Michigan say excluding inmates from Medicaid is driving up costs and hurting the health of inmates.

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

State legislators return to Lansing this week and there’s a lot on the agenda.

State Senator John Proos (R-St. Joseph) hopes the state House will act on a package of bills aimed at reducing recidivism in Michigan’s corrections system.  A higher number of ex-cons in Michigan return to prison compared to other states.

“What can we do to off-load some of those costs, invest in areas that might increase offender success and give us the best chance towards decreasing crime in our communities and seeing that continued drop in violent crime in our communities?” asked Proos.

A student inmate reads in class
Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

For a convicted felon, getting a shot at an education might begin in prison.

Typically that means job training or a GED.

But a new program offers something more often associated with quiet campuses and ivy-covered walls.

The Calvin Prison Initiative is bringing the liberal arts and theology to inmates at a west Michigan prison.

Prison bars
flickr user Thomas Hawk / http://bit.ly/1xMszCg

There are 2.2 million people now incarcerated in American prisons. 

Each year, hundreds of thousands of those inmates are released.

One of the most important ways of keeping them from re-offending and winding up back in prison is education. 

"I came to prison with blood on my hands; I will leave with paint on them" - Johnnie Trice
Johnnie Trice

In all the conversations and policy debates over our criminal justice system, it can be easy to get caught up in the sheer numbers of inmates in our prisons and jails. When that happens, we lose sight of the people in those prison cells – people who bear the same fears, hopes and longings as anyone on the outside.

A unique program called “Humanize the Numbers” is bringing University of Michigan students and state prison inmates in an effort to address this oversight.

Prison bars
flickr user Thomas Hawk / http://bit.ly/1xMszCg

Over the past few days, thousands of federal inmates were released from prison due to a change in the way the federal government sentences drug criminals.

It adds up to the largest one-time release of federal prisoners.

Brandon Sample is the executive director of Prisology, a national nonprofit movement dedicated to reform of the criminal justice system.

Shayan Sanyal / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Aging inmates are the fastest-growing population in Michigan’s prisons.

This has presented a critical challenge: how to provide end-of-life care to those inmates.

That’s where a prison hospice program called CHOICES comes into play. It stands for Choose, Health Options, Initiate Care, and Educate Self.

Courtesy Siena Heights University

A Roman Catholic nun living in Adrian has been teaching literature to male prisoners at Gus Harrison Correctional Facility for nearly 30 years.

"They were engaged. They were passionate. They had read the book. They wanted to talk about it," said Sr. Pat Schnapp, associate professor of English at Siena Heights University. "And my teacherly heart just took off and I was hooked from that point on. I thought, 'I always want to do this in my life.'"

prison bars
Flickr / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Last year, an inmate was placed in the Macomb County jail for failing to pay a traffic fine.

For 16 days, the inmate went through severe drug withdrawals, reportedly losing 50 pounds and suffering seizures and hallucinations before he died. The ordeal was caught by in-cell surveillance video.

Reports indicate that inmate deaths across the country are on the rise, with a particular concern focused on county jails.

Prison bars
flickr user Thomas Hawk / http://bit.ly/1xMszCg

Law enforcement officials gathered in Detroit Wednesday to encourage area employers to hire more former prisoners.

Studies show that of the 13,000 prisoners released in Michigan each year, one third will become re-offenders.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The American Civil Liberties Union is bringing a class-action lawsuit against Muskegon County on behalf of current and former female inmates at the jail.

ACLU attorney Miriam Auckerman alleges women at the jail are forced to shower and use the toilet in front of male guards. 

Public Act 343 makes Michigan the 32nd state to provide exonorees with compensation for time served.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

DETROIT - A lawmaker from western Michigan is leading an effort to possibly save millions of dollars in the criminal justice system.

  Rep. Joe Haveman, a Republican from Holland, hopes to bring a pack of the bills to the House floor this week that would make changes in the parole process and create a commission to study sentences.

  Haveman wants to try to get more people out of prison if they're eligible for parole and not a risk to the public. He's been working with prosecutors, judges, sheriffs and defense lawyers on a compromise.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

DETROIT (AP) - About 130 Michigan prison inmates will have an opportunity to seek parole in a case that ends an unusual state policy of treating them as mandatory lifers.

The state won't appeal a 2013 court decision that struck down the policy and has agreed to clear the way for a parole process. Judge Deborah Servitto signed an order last week.

It's an odd case. The inmates were sent to prison with life sentences for a variety of crimes but still had a chance at parole. Then they got in trouble for possessing a weapon or committing another offense behind bars.

User: Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Legislation in Michigan House could cap FOIA fees

There is new legislation up for initial hearing this week in Lansing. It is a response to local governments and state agencies charging hefty fees for people to see government records.

"One of the bills would limit most charges for requests filed under the state’s Freedom of Information Act to no more than 10 cents a page. Another would create a Michigan Open Government Commission to hear challenges to government denials of information requests," Michigan Radio's Rick Pluta reports.

Lansing City Council vs. Mayor Virg Bernero

The Lansing city council will vote tonight on a budget for next year. Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody reports that "the vote will likely put the council at odds with Mayor Virg Bernero." 

The mayor wants to add annual fees for city water and electricity customers. Conversely, the council wants to make several spending cuts including eliminating several new positions the mayor wants to add to the city's payroll. Mayor Virg Bernero will have until Thursday to veto parts of the city budget he doesn’t like. The Lansing city council has until early June to try to override the mayor’s expected vetoes.

Higher education opportunities piloted in Michigan prisons

"After years without funding for prisoners to access higher education, the Michigan Department of Corrections is immersed in several efforts to teach community college courses and vocational training in-house to a small number of inmates who are near parole. Michigan will join a pilot project that hopes to gather enough evidence to possibly resurrect publicly supported postsecondary education in prisons nationally," reports The Detroit News.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan employers would no longer be able to ask on a job application if a person has been convicted of a felony.  That is if one state lawmaker has his way.

Research shows a criminal record can reduce the likelihood of a job callback or offer by nearly 50%.

To help change that, State Representative Fred Durhal of Detroit wants to ban employers from including a question about criminal convictions on job applications.

He says too often employers throw away job applications if the applicant checks the criminal conviction box.

DETROIT (AP) - The Michigan appeals court says it has no authority to intervene in the judgment of then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who agreed to change a prisoner's no-parole sentence but then changed her mind before leaving office in 2010.

The court said Friday it must respect the "clear and exclusive constitutional power" granted to Michigan governors in commutation matters.

The emergency was declared this week when the number of inmates remained above 700 for seven days in a row. The jail’s capacity is only 580 inmates.

That means state law now requires the jail to release about 175 inmates in the next two weeks. The number needs to get to 555 within 12 days; if the sheriff’s department can’t do that it’ll create a list to hand over to judges to decide.

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