Written 4/6/20 by Robert Winburn #222196
K-UNIT DUBBED “KORONA-UNIT” AND THE APPROACHING DISASTER FOR MICHIGAN PRISONERS
In Michigan, both non-violent and violent offenders are sentenced to prison, not the death penalty. Thankfully, on March 30, 2020, Governor Whitmer announced she is considering early release of low-risk and/or vulnerable prisoners amid the Coronavirus. Plainly, in an open dormitory setting with 8 prisoners in each cube originally designed for 4 occupants, and having approximately 400 prisoners residing in each of these structures, “social distancing” orders cannot be carried out. Research shows that prisoners are more likely to report experiencing infectious diseases, indicating that prisoners face a heightened risk during this pandemic. See UNITED STATES v KENNEDY, U.S. Dist. LEXIS 53359 (E.D. Mich 2020). We are at a growing risk of a major crisis in the Michigan Department of Corrections (“MDOC”) by bureaucrats ill-prepared for Covid-19.
To begin, there is a great deal of concern because MDOC staff have conveyed to general population prisoners that the Center for Disease Control (“CDC”) has supplied the State with over 500 body bags. What the general public doesn’t know is that after dozens of prisoners tested positive for Covid-19 at other facilities, MDOC Director Heidi Washington approved G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility (“JCF”) as the official disaster site for warehousing infected prisoners in a purported isolation zone (formerly shuttered K-Unit) now known as “Korona Unit” or the Catacomb of Death. Oddly enough, it is reported that Warden Noah Nagy volunteered this facility as a containment zone without any consultation with staff.
If anything is certain, “Korona-Unit” is a “tidal wave” that will surely make its way into the general population, and foster a microclimate for propagating the virus. Having prisoners enclosed within a small area is a fertile ground for a lethal virus, and will only serve to endanger the general public health as well as custody staff, inmates and local residents. Notably, at that same location is a mini-city where there are over 1,200 prisoners, many of whom are in poor health. And its environment poses a particular threat to the prison system’s older inmates—and possibly to the outside world.
As it happens, medical staff directly interact with both populations (i.e., the sick and unsick). For instance, since Korona-Unit’s inception, health care personnel (i.e., Health Unity Manager S. Landfair) and other medical staff freely come and go between the isolation unit, and the general population Health Care Center. In addition, some medical equipment is also shared. Thus, not only is the decision to house infected prisoners in such close proximity to uninfected prisoners gross negligence, but it makes infection to the larger population all but inevitable. Indeed, at present date, MDOC staff are not being provided with “adequate masks” or protective equipment. On March 30, 2020, everyone was issued homemade masks which is a piece of cloth made from prisoner blues. Staff are told to re-use gloves after pat-downs due to a shortage created by being starved out by President Trump as a result of animosity between the President and Governor Whitmer. Incredibly, FOIA documents (of an internal Memorandum) for MDOC personnel, reveal that front-line officers are being told that so long as they don’t have more than 30 minutes of exposure to an infected prisoner, there is no risk of spreading the disease.
Hence if one thought the 9/11 Commission and related compensation packages for first responders was an important lesson in human history, the ineptitude of bureaucrats now hiding behind video monitors will be 100 times worse. The question is not if we will be infected. It is when.
Under Michigan Administrative Code 791.716 there is a unique safety provision providing for the EMERGENCY RELEASE OF PRISONERS by mandating staff implement policy, procedure, and practices that direct the release of prisoners in case of emergency. Freeing up prison space through the release of parole violators, prisoners with paroles who are deemed a non-threat to public safety (such as Robert Winburn #222196), but having stale (i.e., 3-year old) detainers precluding release to county jails, will enable the remaining prisoners to be isolated, to prevent or control an outbreak. “We have seen what happens without this action in prisons overseas; infection spreads rapidly and foments unrest among prisoners.” In Italy and Colombia, prisoners feared that they faced a death sentence because of Covid-19 and this resulted in riots and multiple deaths.
In closing, U.S. Attorney General Barr issued a directive ordering the Bureau of Prisons to “prioritize home confinement as appropriate in response to the Covid-19 pandemic to protect the health and safety of BOP personnel and the people in our custody.” Interestingly, Michigan already has statutory authority to remedy the problem. In particular, Administrative Code 791.716 mandates supervisory personnel implement policy, procedure, and practice that provide guidance for the release of prisoners in case of emergency. Opening up prison space through the release of prisoners will enable the remaining prisoners to be isolated, to prevent or control an outbreak. Housing infected prisoners at the same location as uninfected prisoners, and simultaneously sharing the same medical staff and equipment, is a recipe for disaster, and the federal courts have repeatedly held that exposure to potentially deadly communicable diseases violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban against cruel and unusual punishment. See, for example, PITTMAN v KOLB, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 115870 (E.D. Michigan 2009) (noting Robert Winburn provided credible facts that established exposure to potentially deadly diseases states a claim).