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Omicron hits Michigan's prisons, which rank second in nation for COVID cases

Sarah Rahal and Neal Rubin, The Detroit News on

Published in News & Features

Alaska's prison system leads the country at 932 cases per 1,000 inmates, and Rhode Island is third at 840 per 1,000 inmates.

On Friday, Michigan recorded its highest daily average since the start of the pandemic at more than 20,000 new cases daily. On Monday, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported 4,581 adults were hospitalized with confirmed infections, the highest number during the pandemic so far. Statewide, 33% of tests are coming back positive.

Vacancies vs. vaccines

The state's prison system, like many industries, is suffering staffing shortages. There is a 40% vacancy rate for nurses and the department is down about 800 corrections officers, Gautz said. Fully staffed, the department has approximately 6,000 officers.

"Some have no vacancies and some like the women's prison have 70 vacancies and then another 30 officers got COVID," said Gautz, who added the department is hiring.

While officers are no longer traveling from facility to facility, there is a volunteer program to place officers at nearby prisons when they are needed.

 

Staff are tested weekly and are to report symptoms they may have. There is no mandate for corrections officers to be vaccinated, and Gautz said he did not have a percentage of officers who were vaccinated.

"We've had to bring staff in from other facilities, bring in officers who have retired," he said. "Vacancies will lead to mandated overtime, but COVID is the real culprit — several hundred workers tested positive over the last few days, and officers who have a spouse or family members that test positive have to quarantine."

Jail conditions debated

Attorney Loren Dickstein of Southfield-based Lewis & Dickstein law offices said one of his clients, a first-time offender accused of assault with intent to do bodily harm, spent 10 months in the Oakland County Jail awaiting trial when he was infected with the virus.

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