By Chantá Parker, Amanda Alexander and Jonathan Sacks
Originally published in Detroit Free Press
Tens of thousands of people are held in Michigan jails and prisons that leave them particularly vulnerable to public health crises. Every day that passes during the COVID-19 outbreak puts them at heightened risk — risk of indefinite incarceration, risk of illness, and indeed risk of death. It also jeopardizes the health of the entire state: an outbreak of coronavirus in Michigan jails and prisons would spread like wildfire behind bars and beyond.
What happens inside our jails, prisons, youth detention centers, and immigration detention impacts everyone. The disease simply cannot be allowed to incubate and spread unchecked, whether in Royal Oak or Central Michigan Correctional Facility. As people fighting against mass incarceration in Michigan, we are sadly familiar with the dangerous conditions inside the state’s facilities. We are also familiar with what officials can do to curtail the worst effects of this outbreak among the incarcerated. We urge them to take action now.
The most effective tool we have in this fight is social distancing, which is impossible in our jails and prisons. Therefore, we must work to reduce incarceration, immediately releasing those people at the highest risk of health complications. To protect everyone’s health and fulfill the state’s duty to incarcerated individuals, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer must use her powers during the current State of Emergency to expedite the commutation process so she can immediately release those who are at highest risk of complications from the coronavirus.
Emergency powers should also be applied to order early jail releases and bond adjustments. Especially vulnerable groups include the immunocompromised, pregnant people, older adults, and those with underlying conditions that the virus is known to compound. Failing to release them risks their lives — lives the state has a legal and moral responsibility to protect — risks the lives of the staff in jails, and risks exacerbating a rapidly worsening public health crisis.
Read full op-ed here.