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Michigan is leading the nation in the number of prisoner deaths, according to a recent study released by The Marshall Project, a nonprofit journalism group that focuses on criminal justice issues and the pandemic’s impact on prisoners. So far there are 2,073 reported coronavirus cases in Michigan prisons, and 47 prisoners have died.

That has gotten the attention of Amnesty International, one of the world’s leading human rights groups, which has been calling on the federal government and states to release individuals in pretrial detention, as well as those who have already served a portion of their sentence and those who pose no threat, including the elderly as well as prisoners with underlying medical conditions. 

“We are concerned by the incarceration of people in any prison, jail, or detention facility in Michigan, and around the country," says Kristina Roth, senior program officer for criminal justice programs at Amnesty International USA.

Roth notes that while Whitmer did issue an order allowing for the release of some at-risk populations from jails, "the order does not extend to people in prisons, and we would urge the governor to do so, at risk of further jeopardizing life."

"So long as there are any people who have contracted COVID-19 within a prison or jail, the possibility of spread remains grave.”  

Detroiter Janice Green is among those concerned about incarcerated family members who are ill in state prisons. Her 31-year-old son Gerard Haycraft, who has been incarcerated at the G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility in Jackson since last year for a crime his mother said he didn't commit, recently contracted the coronavirus in prison.

Green took to social media last week, where she has been posting daily journals of her phone conversations with her son, to announce that he has just tested positive for COVID-19. His condition could worsen because, according to Green, he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at age 15. Since Haycraft’s incarceration, Green has been fighting to make sure her son receives the proper medication for his condition. Now she must also deal with the deadly virus and fight to keep her son alive. 

“Gerard is very anxious about what’s going on, and so he calls me. He wants to keep me in the know of what’s going on. I could hear the nervousness in his voice as Gerard explained to me that he was told by the health staff that he is vulnerable to become sick because of his current health condition,” Green told me recently before her son caught the virus. 

Green wants the governor to do as Amnesty requests: Release all sick prisoners. 

“Prisons are a petri dish to a pandemic and doing nothing is ethically irresponsible,” She said. “We need leaders that care more about people and not just focus on their next career move. Inmates lives matter. We are all deserving of a second chance.” 

Sam Riddle, a veteran Detroit political analyst and radio talk show host says Whitmer must act with urgency. 

“The prisons of Michigan are coronavirus slaughterhouses," he says. "No incarcerated human being should have COVID-19 as a cellmate. As a matter of human rights Michigan prisoners unjustly exposed to coronavirus should be considered for immediate supervised release. Note that prisoners diagnosed as having upper respiratory infections, asthma, heart conditions, kidney disease and diabetes should also be released to transition facilities and quarantined for an appropriate medically determinant period. Basic human rights demand no less of this Whitmer administration.” 

bankole@bankolethompson.com

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

Catch “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which broadcasts at 11 a.m. weekdays on 910AM.

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