Poor People's Campaign


After weeks of persistent reporting about the COVID-19 crisis in Michigan prisons by Support Michigan Prison Reform (SMPR), and calling for important public health changes in the state’s prison system, yesterday the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) announced that next week it will begin distributing KN95 masks to incarcerated people in Michigan carceral facilities and staff who work in them.

SMPR has been urging members of the public to contact Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Chief Medical Executive, Michigan Dept. of Health and Human Services, as well as Governor Gretchen Whitmer and lawmakers, and ask that they implement the following CDC recommendations to mitigate the COVID-19 crisis in Michigan prisons:

  • Provide incarcerated people N95 masks instead of porous cloth masks which are ineffective at protecting against the COVID-19 Omicron variant and/or allow them to purchase N95 masks from the commissary;
  • End double-bunking and separate beds in prison housing units by at least six feet for proper social distancing;
  • Install plexiglass between beds, sinks in community bathrooms, and across tables in crowded cafeteria-style prison dining halls between people who eat less than two feet apart in most cases;
  • Install hand sanitizer dispensers in all housing units that contains at least 60% alcohol which is the minimum alcohol content the CDC states will effectively destroy COVID-19; and
  • Improve ventilation and air filtration in all prison buildings.

Providing KN95 masks to incarcerated people and prison staff is a step in the right direction. However, the public cannot grow complacent regarding the other necessary changes being requested, particularly the need to reduce prison overcrowding by ending double-bunking in housing units and separating all beds by six feet. Until these issues are resolved biological contagions like COVID-19 will continue to ravage the lives of the people caged in the state’s prison system.

Please continue sharing the SMPR online petition link in your networks regularly and invite others to do the same. Signing the petition will send an email to lawmakers calling on them to pass legislation which reflects the 10-Point Michigan Prison Reform Platform. Included in the platform is implementing the COVID-19 mitigation strategies outlined above as well as other important reforms.

I want to thank everyone who sent emails, faxes, and made phone calls to Dr. Bagdasarian, the Governor’s office, and lawmakers the past few weeks on behalf of this campaign. I want to also thank members of the media who have been investigating the COVID-19 crisis in Michigan prisons and holding the state accountable for its gross negligence and abject failure.

While this is a significant victory for the 32,200 incarcerated people caged in Michigan prisons, it’s not a panacea. It’s a Band-Aid approach and the least expensive way for the state to address the harm being done to incarcerated people and staff that work in the state’s 28 prisons due to overcrowding and the inability to social distance in housing units and dining halls.

Addressing one prong of the CDC COVID-19 mitigation strategy by providing incarcerated people KN95 masks doesn’t erase the state’s refusal to provide them since the first wave of the pandemic raced through the prison system which could have helped prevent thousands of infections.

The state must be frequently reminded that it has a social, moral, and legal obligation to care for and protect those in its custody from the harmful effects of potentially lethal biological contagions. Incarcerated people have been silently stalked by the virus for nearly two grueling years while their pleas for help have cruelly gone widely ignored.

It’s imperative that family members, friends, and advocates of incarcerated people across the state continue raising visibility about this crisis. Invite people to keep signing and sharing the SMPR petition. We urge you to also continue calling lawmakers and the Governor’s office demanding an end to prison overcrowding to protect the health and safety of both incarcerated people and prison staff.

It should be made abundantly clear that the state cannot use prisons to incarcerate people beyond their original design capacity. Double-bunking in prison housing units must end and all beds need to be separated by six feet for prisons to become compliant with CDC social distancing guidelines to prevent rampant transmission of COVID-19 infections. The state must also stop treating the incarcerated as problems rather than people.

As of Friday, January 21, 2022 Michigan has now shamefully reached a deplorable 96% COVID-19 infection rate for people incarcerated inside its carceral facilities. The need to continue galvanizing statewide support for this campaign cannot be underscored enough.

This is a defining moment for those who remain silent in the face of one of the greatest human rights tragedies in the nation’s history. The question people have to ask themselves is which side of history will they stand on.

Efrén Paredes, Jr.
Tri-Chair, Michigan Poor People’s Campaign

Support Michigan Prison Reform
Member of Michigan Collaborative to End Mass Incarceration (MI-CEMI)

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