Nov 23, 2020
The COVID-19 outbreak in Michigan prisons is growing fast. The number of active cases among prisoners more than tripled in just over two weeks, going from around 1,200 in early November to 4,010 by November 20.
Most recently, the outbreaks have been worst in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and western Lower Peninsula prisons. These prisons, located in more rural areas, were spared from the early stages of the pandemic which hit the urban areas of southeastern Michigan. As a result, officials in the U.P. and western prisons apparently took too few preventive measures like early testing of prison employees, who come and go from outside on a daily basis and were the most likely source of the virus entering the prisons.
Initially, the prisons responded by forcing prisoners to stay in their cells. Some prisoners were reluctant to come forward if they were feeling sick because they were concerned they might lose the few privileges at their disposal. Later, the prisons started forcibly testing prisoners but there were problems with how to house prisoners while it took time to get back test results.
Since March, 11,233 Michigan prisoners have tested positive. In March, the state had 38,000 prisoners and after moving to release some, it now has 34,000. That means almost a third of prisoners have contracted the virus. In addition, almost 1,600 staff members have tested positive. Seventy-seven prisoners and three employees in Michigan have died.
Conditions in which prisoners are kept make it near impossible to stop the spread of this highly infectious disease. One prisoner, Devon Glenn, said it well, “We cannot social distance. I understand I’m in prison ... but I don’t wanna lose my life in here. I wasn’t sentenced to death,” according to the Detroit Free Press.
What is happening in Michigan prisons is not an isolated example, it mirrors what is happening in prisons across the country. As always, conditions in the prisons are a measure of the sickness of this capitalist society, only more so in the midst of this deadly pandemic.