Breaking: 9 inmates at Baldwin immigrant prison test positive for COVID-19

By: - April 20, 2020 3:47 pm

Alex Potemkin, Getty Images

Updated, 9:32 p.m., 4/20/20, with Monday’s numbers for the Milan facility and comment from No Detention Centers in Michigan

Nine inmates at Michigan’s only private, for-profit federal immigrant prison have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

DHHS spokesperson Lynn Sutfin said all nine of the cases at North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin were reported to the state on Monday.

This is in addition to at least five staff members at the facility who had tested positive for the virus as of Friday. The first three of those cases were confirmed April 13, as first reported by the Advance.

A spokesperson for the Florida-based GEO Group, which owns the prison, did not return a request for comment. The spokesperson said in previous emails that the staff COVID-19 cases are “believed to be the result of community spread,” and that all inmates who may have had exposure to staff members who tested positive “have been placed on medical quarantine.”

North Lake has been the target of controversy since it was met with protests upon its Oct. 1 opening. Groups including No Detention Centers in Michigan and the Lake County Democratic Party have regularly staged protests and other events in opposition to the incarceration and living conditions of the 1,591 immigrants being held there.

In the month of April alone, the facility has also seen at least one organized hunger strike among prisoners held in the facility’s solitary housing unit (SHU). The strikers spoke of inadequate nutrition, discriminatory treatment and improper COVID-19 precautions.

J.R. Martin, a spokesperson for No Detention Centers in Michigan, said families of the prisoners inside the facility have been “desperately searching for information” during the state’s COVID-19 outbreak to little avail.

“This is a shadow prison with virtually no transparency or accountability to anyone. The GEO Group and Warden [Donald] Emerson have shown beyond any doubt that they cannot keep anyone safe. The Bureau of Prisons must immediately commit to releasing more people to save lives and protect public health, the people held at North Lake need to be freed, and the prison needs to be closed down,” Martin said.*

Although the Advance independently confirmed the existence of the hunger strike earlier this month, GEO Group has continued to deny those reports and alleged that outside groups are fabricating the conditions for political gain. 

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), the prison’s federal contractor, has not responded to requests for comment.

The state’s other FCI in Milan has 39 inmates and 36 staff that are confirmed positive for COVID-19, as of Monday, according to the BOP website that is updated daily.*

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins is a former Michigan Advance reporter. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service.