Families worry as COVID-19 surges in Muskegon prison

Muskegon County

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — About half of the inmates at the Muskegon Correctional Facility have tested positive for COVID-19, putting it in the top four state prisons in terms of infections.

Outside the Muskegon prison, family and loved ones of inmates traveled from around the state to hold vigil Tuesday, demanding that the inmates be treated humanely inside the prison and asking for their release.

“It’s bad right now, it’s really bad,” Tangela Dooley of Detroit said. “That girl over there, her dad’s there and he’s not sentenced to death. He deserves to get out and raise his daughter and still be a dad.”

She said her boyfriend and grandfather are in the Muskegon facility. She said her boyfriend tested positive for the virus.

“My boyfriend is in a garage right now with 30 other people in a bunk bed,” Dooley said, holding a protest sign in the parking lot.

She said the bunk beds are 3 feet apart and worried that people will get worse or reinfected.

“Administration has not given us any kind of plan of action. They haven’t told us anything. They just put us inside of a building and just sent us off, that’s how we are,” Dooley’s boyfriend Leopold Withmore-Vans Allen, Jr. said during a phone call Wednesday.

He said he believed that people who tested positive would be in a single-man cell.

“I feel as if I’m waiting to die, that’s all,” Allen said.

Court records show Allen is serving 20 to 40 years after being convicted of the January 2016 rape of a woman who was 26 weeks pregnant in Kent County. Dooley’s grandfather, 67-year-old Lawrence Emanuel, is serving a life sentence for a murder and arson in Detroit in 1977.

Michigan Department of Corrections spokesperson Chris Gautz said the department is working to keep inmates and staff safe as it deals with the significant outbreak.

“Currently we have 607 prisoners who have tested positive for the virus at Muskegon, which is about half of the facility,” Gautz said.

There have also been about 11 staff members who have tested positive.

Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater has had more than 800 coronavirus cases. The Robert G. Cotton Correctional Facility in Jackson and Gus Harrison Correctional Facility near Adrian have each had around 700, making Muskegon’s tally the fourth highest among all Michigan prisons.

MDOC staff have moved the vulnerable population — older inmates and those with medical issues — off-site to facilities that can provide more immediate health care. About 500 sick inmates will remain on-site and are in several housing units separated from those who have tested negative.

Muskegon had managed to remain COVID-19-free until July, when the first cases started showing up. Within weeks, the prison had hundreds of positive tests.

“Even under the best-laid plans, sometimes you can have spread when you have asymptomatic carriers,” Gautz said.

Gautz said staff members are doing everything they can to enforce mask wearing and keep socially distanced.

On Wednesday, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services ordered testing among MDOC staff. Under the rules, which go into effect Sept. 8, MDOC must:

  • Test ally newly hired workers before they start.
  • Test staff members who have had contact with someone who has COVID-19 or who is showing symptoms of the virus.
  • Test staff in prisons where positive cases have been identified weekly until 14 days after the last positive test among inmates and staff.

MDOC must also tell staff members who don’t get tested under the rules they can’t work.

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