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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

"And if I recall correctly, they gave him Motrin. That was all they had," Dickstein said.

The man was ultimately sentenced to time served and probation. "We argued for bond for 10 months. The prosecution insisted that the Oakland County Jail was taking all the proper precautions," Dickstein said.

Dickstein said he's filed numerous motions regarding incarceration and COVID-19, but the response from prosecutors is that jails have it under control.

"My clients tell me that's far from the truth. They tell me they get new masks maybe once a month, at best," Dickstein said. "There's no way for individuals in jail to maintain social distancing when they're in cells. A lot of them talk about what it's like when they're getting food. They're shoulder to shoulder. It's a hot topic. I have clients I know are suffering who've gotten COVID more than once while incarcerated."

Oakland County Undersheriff Curtis Childs said there are more than 850 inmates lodged in the county jail and the number of positive cases fluctuates each day. He didn't have the active case count on hand Saturday.

"Our non-vaccinated percentage is higher than our vaccinated percentage," Childs said.

Protocols remain the same based on federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health department guidelines, he said.


"Quarantining new arrests, separate housing for COVID-positive, separate housing for symptomatic, extra cleaning throughout the facility, limited movement inside the facility, consistent staff testing and regular testing of people lodged in Oakland County Jail," he said.

Michigan doesn't compile COVID-19 case results from county or city jails, health department spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin said. The state tracks outbreaks, of which there are currently 19 for all jails, prisons and detention centers.

"A lack of data for incarcerated people has become a huge problem. Without transparency, we can't provide solutions," Memaj said.

Michigan's prison population is at the lowest the MDOC has recorded in more than 30 years, Gautz said. In pre-pandemic 2019, the state's prison population was 38,000 prisoners, which dropped to 33,635 by early 2021. At its highest, the state housed 51,515 prisoners in 2006.

Regardless, concerns about overcrowding in U.S. prisons haven't changed since the start of the pandemic, Brinkley-Rubinstein said.

"Overcrowded, under-resourced facilities that are filled with people who have other chronic illnesses is a perfect storm for large COVID outbreaks. And, if there are outbreaks in carceral facilities in your neighborhood, then it increases the risk of outbreaks in your communities," she said. "One of the best ways to mitigate risk in carceral facilities and in the community is to reduce the number of people who are incarcerated."

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