by Lance McNeal

Is there any reason our Federal government has enacted laws such as the CARES Act that allows for the early release of prisoners vulnerable to COVID-19, but the states have not? Has Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) chosen to fight the virus with the Herd Immunity theory? Are they willing to accept the suffering and subsequent loss of life? Or, will Michigan's government enact laws that allow for their sick, non-violent, and harmless prisoners to be released.

On July 27, 2020, Muskegon Correctional Facility (MCF) acknowledged their first inmate tested positive for COVID-19. A little later we could see groups of inmates being moved in the middle of the night, over 90 beds set up in the gym, and we found out through the news that inmates were also housed in the garage. Three weeks later, the local news confirmed 600 of the 1100 inmates had tested positive for COVID-19. Ironically, when the virus hit MCF, our daily emails containing infection rates stopped. So, we had to begin relying on the local news for our facility's status. On August 25, 2020, I and approximately 50 -100 other inmates were also notified that we had tested positive for the virus. On September 1, MDOC posted the names of 70 inmates who have died due to COVID-19. We personally knew the 20 prisoners that had been hospitalized. Unfortunately, for the families of these inmates, MDOC's hotline has not answered or returned inquiries about their love ones.

We've been given several stories as to how the virus was introduced into the facility. However, I believe many decisions allowed it to spread exponentially:

1. Michigan did not require that officers be tested for the virus until late August,

2. It took 3-4 days before MCF isolated the infected unit, and

3. MCF moved prisoners to other units before confirming that they were negative.

In approximately 10 days of the first positive, half that unit was infected and put on an emergency ride out. Four weeks later the families of those inmates informed us that some still had not received their property. Ouch! That was cruel. They were sick, in a new prison and had no change of clothes or personal hygiene supplies.

I'm not saying MDOC didn't try, or that every decision was wrong. In fact, someone had the foresight to have Michigan State Industries (MSI) start making mask for the inmates. A decision that was apparently made well before the White House's task force told the rest of America to start wearing a mask. Unfortunately, masks are no match for COVID-19 in a prison setting. MCF also required paper towels and sanitizer be placed in heavily used areas. Unfortunately, not all officers bought into these new procedures – the new regimen was not implemented in a consistent manner.

I also read the Parole Board saw more inmates in recent months than they had for the same period in 2019. However, I personally know of 10 second degree lifers with more than 40 years in, and over the age of 50, who were denied a parole during that period. That seems to be business as usual.

My greatest fears are the upcoming flu season, a second wave, and the possibility of contracting the disease a second time. Although, MDOC's Health Care is telling us a second outbreak is too rare to worry about. Our question is, “Will Michigan's Governor and Legislature:

1. Create a path to expedite paroles for prisoners with only a few years remaining on their sentence and for non-violent offenders with pre-existing conditions. And,

2. Issue an executive order that will streamline Michigan's commutation process so that the elderly, sick, and harmless prisoners can be released, especially those with preexisting conditions and low recidivism rates.

Or, will MDOC continue to unnecessarily roll the dice with the lives of ALL the men and women under its jurisdiction.