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Coronavirus prompts state, federal officials to halt all prison visits

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Lansing — All visits at state and federal prisons in Michigan are stopped due to the coronavirus, officials said Friday.

Effective immediately, all in-person visits of inmates are halted for the safety of staff, prisoners and the public. The stoppage includes outside volunteers and other tours and groups that routinely come into the prisons.

Barbed wire and fencing at a correctional facility.

“This was not a decision we arrived at lightly, as we understand and recognize the importance of family contact with the prison population,” Heidi Washington, the director of the Michigan Department of Corrections, said.

“Our primary concern has to be public safety and reducing the number of people who enter our facilities is a key factor in limiting the potential spread of this illness into our prisoner population.”

She also said the department will monitor the situation to determine when visits will be restored.

The restrictions on federal facilities, now in effect, were portrayed as a precaution, since no federal inmates or Bureau of Prisons staff members have tested positives for COVID-19. The officials said some exceptions could be made for legal visits.

The federal restrictions, described in an action plan obtained by the AP, will remain in effect for 30 days and then will be re-evaluated. Unlike a security lockdown, inmates will not be locked in cells.

Michigan's federal facilities are in Milan and Baldwin.

In the meantime, the MDOC is working with its vendors that provide communication services to inmates. 

In addition, all staff members will be asked screening questions and have their temperature checked before being allowed entrance into a prison. Those with a temperature above 100.4 will not be allowed to work, officials said.

cramirez@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @CharlesERamirez

Associated Press contributed