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Thousands of Michigan prison inmates have been receiving federal stimulus payments during the pandemic.

The fear is that inmates have been using the money to get contraband from the outside, according to Chris Gautz, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections.

Gautz said the department has recently found more weapons and drugs after it reinstated a more normal schedule of searches.

Lorenzo Garrett felt abandoned when he was in prison. 

 

“No one really cares about you,” he said. 

 

In prison, you get used to a limited routine, he said, and that routine was thoroughly shattered during the coronavirus pandemic.  

 

Garrett said he contracted the virus last April and was quarantined for more than a month. Garrett said he was in pain, but unsure if it was COVID or the hip consultations that were put off temporarily. He was moved to a unit that he described as unsanitary. In the beginning, some prisoners didn’t want to disclose their symptoms for fear of losing the little freedoms they had, he said, and he saw other men get sicker and sicker. 

Idalis Pagan didn’t think it would be so long before she got to see her uncles. But if she can travel to the prison, like she plans to in the next month, new rules will allow her to give them each two real hugs.

Miguel and David are like older brothers to her. One is at Chippewa County prison, nearly 300 miles away from her home in Grand Rapids. The other was recently moved to another lockup.

Prison wall
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For the first time in more than a year, visitors will be allowed at Michigan prisons.

Since the pandemic began last March, more than 25,000 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19. 139 have died from the disease.

Michigan Department of Corrections spokesperson Chris Gautz says visitors will need to test negative for the virus at the prison.

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A transgender female prisoner has sued the Michigan Department of Corrections in federal court for its failure to protect her at the all-male G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility in Jackson County, where she had been housed.

The plaintiff, identified as Jane Doe, filed suit on March 2, 2021 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. 

Michigan Dept. of Corrections

A federal judge will decide if a proposed settlement can resolve a sex discrimination lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Corrections.

The lawsuit was brought by 28 female corrections officers who worked at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility. The suit claims a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII is a federal law that prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.

Prison wall
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A report released Tuesday by the Citizens for Prison Reform calls for the decreased use of solitary confinement by the Michigan Department of Corrections. 

Citizens for Prison Reform is a criminal justice organization that partnered with several Michigan organizations to form the Open MI Door campaign, which aims to end the practice of solitary.

The report details a survey of the psychological impact of solitary confinement on incarcerated people and their families. The organization said the short-term isolation should be limited to “15 days or less and only if absolutely necessary to protect the safety of incarcerated persons and corrections staff.”

"Even during this time period, people should have access to consistent and meaningful therapy, programming, and at least 4 hours out-of-cell time, if not more, each day."

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Michigan continued a trend last year of fewer felons returning to prison for committing new crimes for violating the terms of their parole. That’s according to the Michigan Department of Corrections’ tracking of parolees for three years after they’ve been released.

Last year’s return rate was 26.7%, said MDOC spokesman Chris Gautz. The 2019 rate was 29.1%.

The Michigan Department of Corrections is starting to send test results to a state lab to look for coronavirus variants.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has been especially brutal for Michigan’s corrections system, with nearly 20,000 inmates testing positive since the pandemic began - a staggering figure, given the state’s entire prison population stood around 39,000 in March.

“We are still auditing the numbers to ensure we weed out any double counts or additional reinfections, but yes, it’s about 50% in total,” says Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Chris Gautz.


Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Across the state, more than 1,200 people in Michigan prisons are infected right now. Almost all of them are in four prisons: Marquette, Newberry, and two facilities in Ionia.

Chris Gautz is the spokesperson for the Department of Corrections. He says only a handful have had to be hospitalized.

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.

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.

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
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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.

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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.  

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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.

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