Advance Notice: Briefs

Whitmer signs order protecting prisoners, allows some released early during COVID-19 crisis

By: - March 30, 2020 11:42 am

Getty Images

After the Michigan Department of Corrections (DOC) reported 77 cases of COVID-19 within correctional facilities as of Sunday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced an executive order of risk-reduction protocols. The order includes guidelines for the early release of vulnerable prisoners.

To reduce the spread of COVID-19, the disease from a new coronavirus, cleaning efforts are being increased and incarcerated individuals will have been provided personal hygiene products such as soap and water for frequent hand-washing.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives a COVID-19 update, March 15, 2020 | Gov. Whitmer office photo

Visitation is strongly limited under the new order. All visits, except attorney-related, are restricted. Everyone, offenders and staff, are screened for COVID-19 both entering and leaving a facility.

Additional protocols are implemented, including putting out signage educating staff and offenders about the importance of social distancing and hygiene. One of the main guidances to fight COVID-19, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is to avoid crowds. 

The order allows for the early release of those most vulnerable to the dangers of facility crowding:

  • Older individuals
  • Those with chronic conditions
  • Medically frail individuals
  • Pregnant individuals

The order also calls for the release of individuals who are nearing their release date or were incarcerated for a traffic violation or failure to appear in court or pay fines.

There’s specific care taken for juveniles in the justice system in the new order. Detention centers are advised to eliminate new placements in facilities unless a juvenile poses a substantial and immediate threat to others. Visitations and education will be facilitated through phone and video conferencing.

“The health and safety of all Michiganders remains our top priority during this public health crisis and that includes those incarcerated in our jails and juvenile detention centers,” Whitmer said in a press release. “It is challenging for inmates and employees to practice social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19, and this executive order will put commonsense protocols into place to protect our jail and juvenile detention center populations.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Anna Liz Nichols
Anna Liz Nichols

Anna Liz Nichols is a former Michigan Advance intern. She is a Michigan State University graduate who has reported for several publications, including MLive and Michigan State University’s award-winning student paper, the State News, where she covered the many tendrils of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal.