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Prison fence barbed wire
Kevin Rosseel / morguefile

Today on Stateside, a conversation about the developing future of esports in Michigan. Plus, what the closure of Detroit's Reentry Center means for prisoners transitioning back into society after serving their time.

Person in orange jumpsuit sitting behind prison bars
Lightfield Studios / Adobe Stock

The coronavirus pandemic is taking a growing toll on the lives of state prison inmates. 

As of May 10, 50 inmates have died after contracting the virus. 

The Michigan Department of Corrections is trying to release as many people as possible in response. But a state law called Truth in Sentencing means only some will benefit from that effort.  

Outside the North Lake Correctional Facility entrance in Baldwin.
Taylor Wizner / Interlochen Public Radio

On April 21, Interlochen Public Radio reported there were nine inmates at the North Lake Correctional Facility who tested positive with COVID-19.

Since that story was published, IPR has been unable to obtain further information about the number of inmates who are sick, who have died or recovered from the disease.

cell block in a prison
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The coronavirus is rapidly spreading in some Michigan prisons, especially Lakeland Correctional Facility, Parnell Correctional Facility, Cotton Correctional Facility, Macomb Correctional Facility, and the Women's Correctional Facility.

Forty-one inmates in Michigan prisons have died of COVID-19 as of April 30. 1,412 others have tested positive for COVID-19.

There could be hundreds, if not thousands, more who have been infected. 

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.

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

Updated 2:28 on 4/7/20 to reflect increase in cases 

COVID-19 cases continue to increase rapidly in some Michigan prisons.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 10 prisons now have at least one confirmed COVID-19 case, and at the two most affected prisons, Parnall Correctional Facility and Macomb Correctional Facility, the number of cases is spiking, with a high percentage of positive test results out of those tested.

stock photo of surgical masks on a table
Macau Photo Agency / Unsplash

Michigan’s prison factories are re-tooling to produce personal protective equipment for prisoners and staff. According to MDOC, this is to slow the spread of COVID-19 across Michigan’s twenty-nine prisons.

There are three prison factories in Michigan: a Michigan State Industries factory at Ionia Correctional Facility in Ionia, Michigan State Industries Print Shop and Mattress Factory at the G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility in Jackson, and Michigan State Industries garment factory at the Boyer Road Correctional Facility in Carson City. Those factories are now producing cloth surgical masks, gloves, and gowns.

fence inside a prison grounds
John McGuire for Michigan Radio

A Michigan Department of Corrections transportation officer died Tuesday due to complications from COVID-19. The MDOC did not disclose the officer’s age or if there were underlying health conditions, only that the officer worked at a facility in Detroit.

Chris Gautz is the public information officer for MDOC. He says the department is taking a lot of precautions to prevent the further spread of the virus in Michigan’s 29 prisons.

 

Exterior of fence and prison grounds
Katie Raymond / Michigan Radio

State Senator Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) has introduced a bill that would require the Michigan Department of Corrections to provide a one-year advance notice of the closure of any prison in the state, as well as require the department to conduct community impact studies.

McBroom's district saw the closure of the Ojibway Correctional Facility last year. The facility was the region's largest employer.

"All the taxpayers of Michigan are owed an explanation on the proposed closure," McBroom told Gongwer News Service, adding the Marenisco Township community where the facility was located was "still in the process of being numb" over the impact of the closure.

illustration of person wearing an ankle tether
Adobe Stock

The Michigan Department of Corrections says it will be able to keep its tether program up and running through 2020. The program tracks an estimated 4,000 people on probation, parole, and supervised release. 

Verizon was scheduled to change its wireless system at the end of 2019, and the department didn’t have the money for new tethers. Now, Verizon is holding off until the end of next year, which means the tethers won’t “go dark” after all. 

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. 

Women's prison
Michigan Department of Corrections

Officials say Michigan's only women’s prison has an outbreak of scabies. This is the second reported outbreak in six months. 

The Michigan Department of Corrections says tests confirm three inmates at the Huron Valley Correctional Facility have scabies. Officials say the facility quarantined one housing unit with eighty-three inmates for twenty-four hours.

New recruits for MDOC at swearing in ceremony raising their hand
Michigan Department of Corrections / Flickr

Working as a corrections officer can be a high stress job. Earlier this year, we spoke with Cary Johnson, a corrections officer in Jackson, about the mental health challenges facing the state’s prison workforce.

Johnson has lost four colleagues to suicide within two years, and she told us both cultural and structural changes were needed to create a healthier work environment for the state’s corrections officers.

Now, the Michigan Department of Corrections is creating an employee wellness program to help correctional officers deal with the high stress environment of working in a prison.

scrabble tiles that spell out mental health
Pixabay

Today on Stateside, the Michigan Department of Corrections has hired a mental health specialist to run an employee mental wellness program in response to concerns about stress and suicides among corrections officers. Plus, how a design firm streamlined Michigan's long and confusing government assistance application using “human-centric design.”

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

Michigan’s prisons are in crisis. The state cannot find enough corrections officers to staff them. Older officers are retiring, others are quitting, and there are hundreds of officer positions waiting to be filled.

For corrections officerss like Lorraine Emery, that shortage means an exhausting, dangerous job is getting even tougher.

Emery has been a corrections officer for about 17 years. She’s currently at the Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility, in Ionia. When she gets home from her eight-hour shift, the first thing she does is change her clothes.

A chain-link fence and barbed wire
Max Pixel

Michigan is projecting a continued decrease of its prisoner population this year, and with that comes a decrease in prisons.

The state House and Senate budget committees both recommended a prison closure for the 2018-2019 fiscal year Tuesday.

Governor Snyder’s original budget proposal, submitted in February, did not include the prison closure. However, as the number of prisoners in the state continued to fall throughout the year, the legislature determined the Michigan Department of Corrections could safely close a prison.  

A chain-link fence and barbed wire
Max Pixel

 


Last year, a state prisoner complained of chest pain and difficulty breathing. According to a Detroit Free Press report, 37-year-old John Stein at the Cotton Correctional Facility at Jackson went to the prison healthcare unit. A short time later, he was sent back to his cell. There, he collapsed and died.  

 

A $50 million lawsuit has been filed against the Michigan Department of Corrections and a private company hired to handle inmate health care, Corizon Health. 

Prison fence barbed wire
Kevin Rosseel / morguefile

Inmates at a mid-Michigan prison are on lockdown after gang related fighting.

Multiple fights broke out over the course of several days. They started Thursday, and occurred multiple times on Sunday during meals and finally on the prison yard on Monday. The facility has been on lockdown since Monday at lunchtime. Lockdown means inmates don’t have any privileges and are confined to their cells.

Prison fence barbed wire
Kevin Rosseel / morguefile

The Michigan Department of Corrections announced that a prison in Muskegon Heights will close in March.

Nearly 175 people work at the West Shoreline Correctional Facility. The Michigan Department of Corrections says it plans to do what it can to ensure that all employees have a job when the prison closes.

The main reason for the closure is because the state’s prison population is down, according to The Michigan Department of Corrections.

Chris Gautz, a spokesperson for MDOC said the closure shows the state’s correctional system is working.

Pixabay / Creative Commons

The Michigan Department of Corrections has revised its policy on transition-related care for transgender inmates. Before the change, inmates were only allowed to receive hormone therapy or gender-affirming surgery if this care was already scheduled before the person was incarcerated. Now, trans inmates can start this care in prison.

Women's prison
Michigan Department of Corrections

The State Senate proposed reducing funding for Michigan prisons, because the number of prisoners in the state continues to decline. But MDOC officials are balking at the suggestion. 

According to State Senator John Proos, there are 1600 fewer inmates in Michigan prisons than in February 2016.

That is largely how Proos justified the Senate’s proposed $41 million cut to prison funding in its budget plan. It's money that correctional facilities would no longer have to fund the day-to-day operations.

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

State police are requesting a warrant as a result of their investigation into the death of Janika Edmond, a 25-year-old inmate who apparently hung herself last year at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility.

State police presented their findings to the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s office Thursday, said MSP spokeswoman Shanon Banner.

WFIU / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Michigan corrections workers did not properly document prisoner transfers between October 2013 and September of last year. That’s according to a new report from the Michigan auditor general’s office.

It says workers failed to document key information such as prisoner counts, departure times, and reasons for the transports. It says that made it difficult for the department to monitor the transports.

Paul Wright / Flickr Creative Commons /http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Michigan Department of Corrections is setting up a 30-person unit to monitor the department's 184 private contracts for services, including food and medical treatment.

The department came under intense scrutiny last year for major problems with its food service provider.

Prison fence barbed wire
Kevin Rosseel / morguefile

Republican and Democratic lawmakers at the state Capitol say it’s time for prison kitchens to be inspected by local health agencies. That’s after the most recent instance of maggots found in a corrections food service facility.

  

Prison kitchens are exempt from local health inspections. 

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

Legislation to compensate people who are wrongly imprisoned in Michigan is moving forward at the state Capitol.

A state House committee voted unanimously on Tuesday to give people $60,000 for every year they are imprisoned plus damages.

Prison fence barbed wire
Kevin Rosseel / morguefile

Governor Rick Snyder has signed a law that will allow a private corrections company to accept inmates who've been security risks at other prisons at a facility in northern Michigan.

The Baldwin private prison – closed since 2005 – is owned by the GEO Group. The new law allows GEO's currently dormant North Lake Correctional Facility to house “level five” inmates who've been convicted of fighting and attempting to escape. 

Parole changes slammed from all angles

Jun 2, 2015
Shayan Sanyal / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Law enforcement groups and prisoner advocates alike are criticizing a bill meant to make it easier for some inmates to get out on parole.

The goal of House Bill 4138 is to cut corrections spending by safely reducing Michigan’s prison population. But the criticism came from all sides at a committee hearing on Tuesday.

Derek Key / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A state House panel on Tuesday will consider making it easier for some low-level inmates to get out on parole.

“The idea is that we’re trying to reduce our prison population in a way that is fair to everybody concerned, that saves taxpayer dollars, and that helps these individuals reintegrate back into society,” said bill sponsor state Rep. Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth, who also chairs the House Criminal Justice Committee.

Reem Nasr

Last year, more than 10,000 people came out of prison in Michigan. Of those, about a third live in metro Detroit.

And as the city attempts a comeback, more jobs will open up and need to be filled.

One of the programs that's trying to give Detroit's parolees a fighting chance at employment is Green Works.

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