COVID-19 behind bars: A death sentence

Coronavirus

COLDWATER TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Many of the 50 Michigan state prisoners who have died of COVID-19 were never going to get out alive.

Twenty-two were serving life without parole and others had sentences so long that they were likely to die behind bars, according to a Target 8 analysis of the deaths.

But at least 17 were likely to have gotten out eventually. COVID-19 was their death sentence.

“The judge never said, I’m sending you to prison to die,” said Daniel Manville, a former prisoner and now an attorney who helped file a federal class-action lawsuit against the state prison system for its handling of the pandemic.

Manville, the director of the Michigan State University Civil Rights Clinic, accused the prison system of not acting fast enough and still not doing enough.

“If they’re going to die, let them die a natural death. Don’t let them die because of the coronavirus because you are not providing them care,” he said.

ATTORNEY: ‘THEY’RE HUMAN BEINGS’

The dying started April 1 and hasn’t stopped. Inmates have died at 11 state prisons.

So far, more than 2,000 inmates have tested positive, including more than 630 at the Lakeland Correctional Facility just outside Coldwater.

The Michigan Department of Corrections said a dozen or so prisoners are on ventilators at secure hospitals around the state.

A Target 8 analysis found the average age of prisoners whose lives were claimed by COVID-19 was 66, which is far below the 75-year-old average for others who have died in the state. The state said most had underlying conditions.

The youngest was a 47-year-old convicted killer from the Detroit area, the oldest an 86-year-old sex offender from Allegan County.

All but three were men. About half were black and half were white.

Most committed their crimes in the Detroit area. Thirteen were from West Michigan.

They include 86-year-old Eugene Shingle, who was serving two to 15 years for molesting a developmentally disabled 11-year-old girl on his Hamilton school bus in 2007.

They also include 58-year-old Gregory Kelly, a pimp who was serving 15 to 40 years for transporting prostitutes in Grand Rapids in 2005.

Kelly “kicked a  pregnant prostitute to induce her to miscarry, threatened to kill a prostitute for disrespecting him, and dragged another prostitute off the street and assaulted her,” court records show.

Manville said their crimes shouldn’t matter. The state, he said, is required to care for them.

“You should care because they’re human beings,” he said.

He said the state should reopen some of its empty, mothballed prisons to help spread out prisoners, making it easier to keep them 6 feet apart.

“They’re letting them go to the yard together as a group, they’re letting them go to the mess hall,” he said.

Target 8 recently found dozens of prisoners gathered in groups in the yard at Lakeland.

“What we’re trying to do is spread these people out,” Manville said.

LAKELAND PRISONERS ESPECIALLY VULNERABLE

Chris Gautz, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections, denied the system was slow to respond.

“These are all human beings, so every life is important to us, and we’re doing everything we can to keep the numbers of deaths low,” Gautz said.

At the Lakeland Correctional Facility alone, where half the 1,400 prisoners are elderly or sick, 18 have died; more than in any other state prison.

“It does look like a nursing home, you see prisoners in wheelchairs,” the MDOC spokesman said.

He said MDOC was worried from the start about what would happen if COVID-19 hit Lakeland.

“You don’t want to see it at any facility, but you really don’t want to see it at Lakeland,” he said.

>>MDOC website on coronavirus response

UNIONS: LONG HOURS, NOT ENOUGH PPE

Prisons are like petri dishes for a virus, prison union leaders said.

“Prisons are small communities and there’s a lot of individuals that are pushed into a very small space, and so you get a virus like this and it works its way through the system until it has no more individuals to infect,” said Jeremy Tripp, executive director of SEIU Local 517M, which represents about 30 to 40 technicians who work at prisons.

Unions for corrections officers and other prison workers also said the state isn’t doing enough to keep them safe.

“First and foremost is the state’s lacking in proper PPE (personal protection equipment),” said Byron Osborn, president of the Michigan Corrections Organization.

“The officers know that we signed off on this, our job is to protect the community and keep these prisoners safe and orderly, but it’s an extra burden when you come in knowing that, ‘Hey, I don’t have the proper PPE to protect myself against this contagion that’s in here,'” Osborn said.

He said that nearly 300 of the state’s 6,000 corrections officers have tested positive.

“They’re scared just like everybody else,” Tripp said.

Two workers have died, including 50-year-old transportation officer Damon Burton of Detroit. He was set to retire on April 1. He died the day before.

The state has not identified the second worker, a woman who worked at a probation and parole center in Detroit.

The state said that those who work directly with infected prisoners have PPE: N95 masks, goggles, gowns and gloves.

But most others wear cloth masks made in prison shops. Prisoners also are required to wear cloth masks.

The unions want the full PPE protection for all prison workers.

“Folks’ primary concern is the potential to bring this home to their families,” Osborn said.

Union leaders said the virus has also led to long hours for corrections officers. Many have been sent home for 14 days as a precaution after coming into close contact with an infected co-worker or prisoner. At one point at Lakeland, a third of the staff weren’t allowed to work, MDOC said.

“We have folks working 16-hour shifts every other day,” said Osborn, the corrections officers union leader.

Some of the quarantined officers, they said, don’t have enough sick leave, so they’re not getting paid. The union has asked the state to pay them anyway.

MDOC ISOLATING INFECTED INMATES

Gautz, the MDOC spokesman, said the state is spending millions to fight the virus and is following guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“They (union leaders) think that everyone should be wearing N95 masks at all times, and that’s clearly not what the guidelines say by the CDC,” he said. “N95 masks are expensive; they can be hard to come by right now.”

The state, he said, is releasing record numbers on parole, sanitizing prisons and is separating the infected from others. MDOC on Monday started working with the Michigan National Guard to test every prisoner in the six prisons in the Upper Peninsula at a cost of $390,000, Gautz said.

“Certainly our goal and our plan is to test every prisoner in the state,” he said.

At Lakeland, where every prisoner has been tested, those with COVID-19 are kept separate from those who have tested negative, the MDOC spokesman said.

Lakeland is one of five prisons housing COVID-19-infected prisoners. He said they’re also being sent to Robert Cotton Correctional Facility in Jackson, Carson City Correctional Facility, Macomb Correctional Facility and the Green Oaks Facility in Whitmore Lake.

Prisons, he said, preach social distancing.

“The message is out there and if the prisoners aren’t heeding that, or they’re purposely deciding to not do that, we have staff who can remind them, prod them, but if they’re choosing to do that, at the end of the day there’s not a whole lot you can do if they want to be gathering in these groups,” he said.

Reopening old prisons to spread them out more, he said, would be expensive and time-consuming.

“We work very hard to do everything we can to limit the spread, to slow spread,” Gautz said.

THE DEAD FROM WEST MICHIGAN

COVID-19 has led to the deaths of 50 state prisoners through Friday, including 13 convicted for crimes in West Michigan. Below, you find their names and the crimes for which they were imprisoned, listed by date of death:

Warren Lee Wright, 73
Date of death: April 7, 2020

A Michigan Department of Corrections mug shot of Warren Wright.

Kalamazoo County
Conviction: Second-degree murder in 2001
Sentence: 40 to 6 years

Kendrick Lee, 52
Date of death: April 9, 2020

A Michigan Department of Corrections mug shot of Kendrick Lee.

Kalamazoo County
Conviction: Attempted murder in 2005
Sentence: 18 months to 50 years

Raymond Woodmansee, 53
Date of death: April 13, 2020

A Michigan Department of Corrections mug shot of Raymond Woodmansee.

Barry County
Conviction: Operating meth lab in 2012
Sentence: Eight to 20 years

Donald Campbell, 76
Date of death: April 15, 2020

A Michigan Department of Corrections mug shot of Donald Campbell.

Allegan County
Conviction: Sexual assault in 2016
Sentence: Three to 10 years

Dave Harris, 64
Date of death: April 18, 2020

A Michigan Department of Corrections mug shot of Dave Harris.

Calhoun County
Conviction: First-degree murder, home invasion in 2011
Sentence: Life without parole

Gregory Renardo Kelly, 58
Date of death: April 21, 2020

A Michigan Department of Corrections mug shot of Gregory Kelly.

Kent County
Conviction: Four counts prostitution-transporting females; narcotics delivery; weapons in 2005
Sentence: 15 to 40 years

Eugene Shingle, 86
Date of death: April 22, 2020

A Michigan Department of Corrections mug shot of Eugene Shingle.

Allegan County
Conviction: Sexual assault victim under 13 in 2007
Sentence: Two to 15 years

Vaughn Rodgers, 82
Date of death: April 21, 2020

A Michigan Department of Corrections mug shot of Vaughn Rodgers.

Berrien County/Ingham County
Conviction: Murder in 1969, armed robbery in 1987, kidnapping, prison escape, weapons, assaulting prison employee, auto theft in 1990.
Sentence: Life without parole

Larry Boise, 78
Date of death: April 24, 2020

A Michigan Department of Corrections mug shot of Larry Boise.

Kent County/Barry County
Conviction: First-degree sexual assault victim under 13 in 1992; third-degree sexual assault in 1991
Sentence: 20 to 40 years

Mark Webster, 61
Date of death: April 24, 2020

A Michigan Department of Corrections mug shot of Mark Webster.

Montcalm County
Conviction: Two counts first-degree sexual assault, child sexually abusive material in 1998
Sentence: 25 to 50 years

William Slaughter, 78
Date of death: April 29, 2020

A Michigan Department of Corrections mug shot of William Slaughter.

Calhoun County
Conviction: First-degree sexual assault in 1988
Sentence: 40 to 60 years

John Thompson, 64
Date of death: May 4, 2020

A Michigan Department of Corrections mug shot of John Thompson.

Muskegon County
Conviction: First-degree murder in 1982
Sentence: Life without parole

Anthony Wright, 59
Date of death: May 5, 2020

A Michigan Department of Corrections mug shot of Anthony Wright.

Muskegon County
Conviction: Narcotics delivery, weapons in 2016
Sentence: Five to 40 years

  

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