A Michigan prison that has emerged as a hotspot for coronavirus cases has an infection rate that exceeds the prison systems of New York and Chicago, both of which have drawn national attention as major sources of epidemic.
At the Parnall Correctional Facility near Jackson, 10% of inmates and 21% of staff tested positive for COVID-19, according to a Detroit Free Press analysis of data from the Department of Corrections.
The percentage of the prison population with Parnall’s new coronavirus has exceeded the infection rate of 7% at Cook County Jail in Chicago, which the New York Times described last week as the largest known source of infections in the United States.
Parnall’s rate is also higher than that of Rikers Island and other New York prisons, which have a collective infection rate of 8%, according to the Legal Aid Society. Like Chicago, the New York prison system has a higher number of COVID-19 cases and a population more than twice as large as Parnall.
Among the prison systems that actively report infections, the Illinois Stateville Correctional Center has an 11% higher infection rate than Parnall.
Infection rate and high proportion of positive tests at Parnall indicate that confirmed cases are just “the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr. Josiah Rich, professor of medicine and epidemiology at Brown University and director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at Miriam Hospital in Rhode Island.
“If you find that 10% of the people in an establishment are infected and that you are [testing] just over 10%, so there is a lot more infection than you might think. So this is a problem for people in prison. This is a problem for the staff. This is a problem for the families of the staff. And among those infected who need to be transferred to local hospitals, this is a problem for the local health system. ”
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At the start of the Parnall epidemic, the minimum security prison about 75 miles west of Detroit housed 1,641 prisoners. Positive tests by four prisoners housed in single cells in a unit known as 10 Block marked the arrival of the coronavirus at the facility on March 25. Now 162 prisoners from each housing unit are confirmed to be infected with the virus, including four men who have died, according to Ministry of Correctional Services spokesperson Chris Gautz. Of the 63 Parnall personnel whose COVID-19 has been confirmed, more than half are officers.
The infection rate among residents of surrounding Jackson County is 0.1%.
“Certainly Parnall has been hit the hardest,” said Gautz. “The staff went out of their way to limit the spread there. But it’s very difficult to try to slow the spread in a collapsed setting like this. You see it in nursing homes. You see it in prisons. And you see it in some of our prisons. “
Since a man from an establishment on the Upper Peninsula was confirmed as the first case of a COVID-19 MDOC prisoner, the department has tested 707 detainees. On Tuesday, the results came back positive for 454 prisoners.
Rich said there could be “thousands” of undetected cases in the Michigan prison system.
About half of the state’s 29 prisons have at least one confirmed case of a prisoner with COVID-19, with an overall infection rate of 1.2% among approximately 38,000 inmates. Ten percent of the 454 prisoners who contracted COVID-19 were sent to community hospitals. Eleven prisoners died Tuesday evening.
The number of employee cases increased to 175, or 1.4% of employees on Tuesday evening. Two MDOC employees died.
More positive than negative tests
According to the Prison Policy Initiative, a criminal justice think tank, nearly 2.3 million people are held in prisons, jails, juvenile detention centers and other institutions across the country, and more than half are locked up in state prisons.
Anticipating the arrival of the coronavirus, health advocates and experts across the country began to sound the alarm a few months ago. They say that prisons and prisons are like “petri dishes” in which COVID-19 could be rife among an aging population particularly vulnerable to disease.
“It is the duty of every state to recognize that a prison sentence should not become a death sentence solely because of a pandemic,” said Wanda Bertram, spokesperson for the Prison Policy Initiative.
Prisoners, their families and correctional officers in Michigan have told Free Press in recent weeks that they are concerned about the speed at which COVID-19 is spread behind bars.
“I’m having panic attacks,” said Juanita Reynolds, 45, of Tuscola County, who is concerned that her husband may get the coronavirus before he is released from Parnall in August. “I have anxiety problems. This makes the situation worse. “
Both Gautz and Byron Osborn, president of the Michigan Corrections Organization, said the installation of Parnall’s home was a factor that had likely caused the virus to spread quickly. The three-pole barn buildings hold more than half of the facility’s prisoners in open bays: eight-person cubes with partial walls and no doors. The rest of the population is housed in individual cells with open bars.
“We have known from the start of this crisis that once it enters a facility with an open bay, it will be very difficult to contain,” said Osborn. “It had probably spread much faster there before the ministry was able to control it.”
Reynolds said she follows the department’s daily updates on prisoner and staff infections posted online. The growing number of cases keeps her on the lookout, she said.
“We don’t have a day yet where there have been more negative tests than positive,” said Gautz in recent weeks. “I hope we start to see it come down, but we don’t want it to be because we don’t do enough testing. “
Just while incarcerated, said Gautz, all inmates technically meet the screening criteria if they have a symptom of COVID-19. The department has about 750 test kits for prisoners, he said.
During this time, staff who show symptoms should be screened in the community. It was a challenge, although Osborn said the department had recently reserved slots so that some officers could undergo rapid tests in Detroit.
Frightened prisoners, officers
With a large number of officers and other staff going back and forth every day, the boundaries between prisons and the communities in which they are found are porous. Experts say the idea that correctional facilities are separate from communities is a mistake.
Osborn said the ministry’s four facilities in Jackson and two in the south – the Lakeland Correctional Center in Coldwater and the Gus Harrison Correctional Center in Adrian – employ more than 1,300 officers, plus civilian support staff. Many of these employees come from communities across the southern part of the state, such as the Detroit Metro, Lansing and Kalamazoo.
While Parnall has the highest infection rate among detainees, prisons in the southeast and south-central parts of the state have also been hit hard:
- At the Detroit Reentry Center, 6% of prisoners had confirmed cases and one prisoner died after contracting COVID-19. One staff member died and 5% of staff confirmed cases. The community infection rate across the city is 1%.
- At the Macomb County Correctional Center, 5% of inmates and staff are infected. The community infection rate in postal code 48048, where the facility is located, is 0.4%.
- In Branch County, 5% of inmates at Lakeland Correctional Institution have confirmed cases and 7% of staff. In Branch County, 0.1% of the population has been infected – 30 confirmed cases.
- At Huron Valley Correctional Center for Women in Washtenaw County, 3% of inmates and staff confirmed cases and two inmates died. In postal code 48197, where the facility is located – 0.3% of the local population had a confirmed case of COVID-19.
To fight the pandemic, “we need to look at prisons and prisons as reservoirs that could lead to a resurgence of the epidemic if the epidemic is not adequately treated in these facilities everywhere,” Rich explained to Brown University and two other infectious disease specialists in a trial published this month in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Among other steps, the article recommends the release of prisoners who are unlikely to reoffend, as well as the elderly and sick – measures that advocates have called for in Michigan.
Gautz said the department is working to speed up parole. Under the “truth in sentencing” law, the department cannot consider the release of prisoners until they have completed their full minimum sentence.
Governors of states such as New Jersey, Washington and Pennsylvania intervened and signed executive orders to begin releasing or granting medical leave to vulnerable detainees to help stem the spread of COVID-19. Governor Gretchen Whitmer has so far not ordered the early release of Michigan prisoners.
The ACLU of Michigan said that Whitmer could quickly reduce the prison population during the public health emergency with steps such as the temporary reintroduction of the use of good time and disciplinary credits to advance eligibility for release conditional, the lifting of technical requirements for parole such as the completion of courses in prison, extending the use of commutation and parole for medical reasons to elderly or frail prisoners.
“Lives can be saved, but only if we act now to protect those most vulnerable to serious illness and death from COVID-19,” said ACLU Michigan legal director Dan Korobkin in a statement. communicated.
In other states, efforts have focused on the release of prisoners convicted of non-violence. This would exclude people like DeAngelo Thomas, who has been in prison for 16 years for assault with intent to commit murder and claims to have been wrongly convicted in Wayne County. Its first release date is in three years.
“Why don’t you release a guy who’s been down since I’m downstairs?” Said Thomas, 42, of Detroit, who said he was anxious to go home with his wife and three daughters. “We don’t come back to prison, especially when you leave with a plan. “
Thomas knew three of Parnall’s prisoners who died from COVID-19.
“I wake up and praise God every morning, I wake up without a fever,” he said.
A largely overlooked element in prisons and prisons seeking to slow the spread of COVID-19 is proper training on PPE, said Dr. Homer Venters, former chief medical officer of the New York penitentiary system.
He gave the example of a correctional officer who is given a mask, and in a day or two, we see him wearing it around his neck because no one has explained to them how and when to use it. . Or, an inmate who cleans the facility is asked to clean the cell of a symptomatic prisoner without any advice on personal precautions.
“Front line infection control staff are made up of officers and inmates. But most of the plans I’ve seen across the country don’t really like it, “said Venters, president of the nonprofit Community Correctional Health Service. “Now you have many, many very scared people who are detained and very scared correctional officers because no one takes the time to really engage with them as part of this infection control team.”
Contact Angie Jackson: [email protected]; 313-222-1850. Follow her on Twitter: @ AngieJackson23. Contact Kristi Tanner: [email protected] or 313-222-8877.
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