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Michigan Prisoners Once Again Lose Visitation Due to COVID-19 and Influenza Outbreaks

by Jo Ellen Nott

Michigan state prisoners are having a grim winter. Quarantine orders are in effect at 11 state lockups suffering outbreaks of the flu and COVID-19.

Two prisons, Macomb Correctional Facility (CF) and G. Robert Cotton CF, were under full quarantine as of January 2023. Nine others were on partial quarantine status, closing individual housing units with positive cases of COVID-19. Only one of the nine was solely affected by the flu.  

Richard A. Handlon CF in Ionia has been in quarantine for COVID-19 since November 29, 2022, with no in-person visitation permitted. As of January 2023, only Housing A was under quarantine. Several months ago, hundreds of prisoners in the facility tested positive for COVID-19 and, as of December 23, the Detroit News reported 25 active cases, giving the prison the grim distinction of having half of the of total cases among Michigan prisoners.

The state Department of Corrections said it was attempting to strike a balance between managing sick prisoners and permitting their family and friends holiday visitations.

Macomb CF in Lenox Township went under quarantine on December 13, 2022, due to a flu outbreak. But prisoners were allowed to receive holiday visits if not sick. Those with the flu had access only to phone and video calls. Masks were temporarily mandated for in-person visits during December, following months of mask-free visitation.

The prison was in the public eye during the final months of 2022 for news unrelated to flu outbreak and quarantine. Following the year’s third prisoner homicide in October, Warden George Stephenson was walked off the job and placed on stop order. Stephenson was not suspended in relation to the two homicides from earlier in 2022, nor is he being investigated by the police, according to DOC Spokesman Chris Gautz. The most recent homicide of Ruben Martinez, 28, is the only one related to Stephenson’s stop order, Gautz said, stressing that Stephenson has not been fired but is on paid leave. [See: PLN, Nov. 5, 2022, online.]

A month after he was replaced by former Warden Willis Chapman, two prisoners at Macomb CF shot a rap video that went viral after they uploaded it to the internet. The two, known as “24 Superbadd37” and “82 Treezy,” flagrantly violated strict prison rules against prisoners having cellphones, but they made no attempt to disguise themselves. Guards can be seen in the background during the video, apparently oblivious to what is happening. Prison officials identified the two and placed them in segregation.

Macomb CF may be the only prison in Michigan where a former prisoner is suing to return there. Philip Berryman filed his suit pro se in 2017, alleging various violations of his First and Eighth Amendment Rights based on his transfer to another Michigan prison. Berryman is a paraplegic Jew who requires kosher meals and demands a private to evacuate his own feces. The federal court for the Eastern District of Michigan denied his request for a preliminary injunction on August 25, 2022. See: Berryman v. Stephenson, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 152565 (E.D. Mich.). The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit then denied Berryman’s appeal on December 20, 2022. See: Berryman v. Stephenson, USCA (6th Cir.), Case No. 22-1971 (2022).

Additional Sources:  CBS News, Daily Star, Detroit News

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