Inmates sue state over COVID-19 prison conditions

Posted at 10:44 AM, May 01, 2020

With at least 41 Michigan prisoners dying of COVID-19, inmates have filed a class-action lawsuit against the state’s Department of Corrections, saying its response to the coronavirus outbreak is putting inmates at risk.

The lawsuit, filed yesterday on behalf of six prison inmates, alleges a violations of prisoners’ Eighth Amendment rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

Daniel Manville, one of the attorneys who filed the lawsuit, argues that prisoners are put at risk by not being able to socially distance during meal time, when they’re sleeping or otherwise in confined areas.

“MDOC once again was engaged in this kind of catch up mentality,” Manville said. “Everything else goes in within society, and then MDOC reacts to it later and then tries to say: ‘Oh gee, we’re doing everything right.’”

As of today, 1,402 prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19.

Damion Nelmark was just released from the Parnall State Prison, where 170 inmates tested positive. He was one of them.

Nelmark says the prison’s design, with open bars instead of doors, made spread nearly impossible to contain.

“There’s nothing stopping from someone coughing and it getting out into the air and spreading,” Nelmark said.

He said that his symptoms were so severe, he had to be rushed to a hospital in Jackson to be treated. He has since improved and was released from the prison this month.

Loved ones of inmates stricken with the disease tell 7 Action News that they wake up each day hoping they’re still okay.

The mother of an inmate at the Robert Cotton Correctional Facility, recently diagnosed with COVID-19, spoke with 7 Action News but asked that we not use her son’s name, citing concerns that he may be treated differently inside the facility.

“I can’t tell you the pain I feel when he calls and tells me, ‘Mom, I’m afraid I’m going to die in here. I don’t want to die in here,’” she said.

MDOC spokesman Chris Gautz said the state is taking aggressive action in stopping the spread of COVID-19.

He said ill prisoners are sent to area hospitals, common areas are regularly sanitized and emergency inmate transfers have been ceased.

He also stressed that inmates are provided with personal protection equipment, are provided with ample hand soap and are encouraged to socially distance throughout the prison whenever possible.

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