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Activists urge Gov. Whitmer to address high COVID-19 rates in Michigan prisons

Several individuals can be seen holding signs. The signs support ending mass incarceration and double bunking in Michigan prisons. The members are sitting on the front steps of the Michigan Capitol Building in Lansing.
Michelle Jokisch Polo
Members of Michigan's Poor People Campaign gather at the state Capitol to urge Governor Gretchen Whitmer to address COVID-19 rates in the state's prisons.

Activists called on Governor Gretchen Whitmer to address high COVID-19 rates within the state’s prisons.

About a dozen activists with the Michigan Poor People’s Campaign stood on the front steps of the Michigan State Capitol Monday.

Bill Wylie-Kellermann was one of the event’s organizers. He said the group has come up with a 10-Point Michigan Prison Reform Platform.

"We're, this morning, calling on Governor Whitmer and lawmakers to enact legislation reflecting these changes and call on the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to exercise its emergency powers to create safer living spaces in the state's prison system," he said.

One of these points asks the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) to end the practice of double-bunking incarcerated people and ensure all beds in prison housing units are separated by at least six feet.

MDOC spokesperson Chris Gautz said double bunking is a regulation that occurs in every state and has been happening for decades.

"Also, we meet or exceed all state and CDC guidelines for carceral settings, which is why we have won every lawsuit that has been brought against us regarding COVID procedures," he added.

Kim Redigen with the Michigan Poor People's Campaign read a statement from Efren Paredes Jr., who is serving a life sentence at the Lakeland Correctional Facility near Coldwater.

“More than 13 dozen lives have been claimed by COVID-19 in the state's prisons from the beginning of the pandemic. Their deaths have occurred largely in part because they could not properly socially distance and protect themselves from the virus from proper masking," she read.

Data from the Michigan Department of Corrections show a large majority of those incarcerated in the state’s prisons have tested positive for COVID over the course of the pandemic.

Bob Wheaton, a spokesperson with the state health department, said they are continuing to work with MDOC to protect inmates and prison staff.

The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

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