During the COVID-19 crisis, jails and prisons have failed to take basic measures to protect incarcerated people from catching the deadly coronavirus. Social distancing in jail is impossible, quarantining and contact tracing procedures have been lax or non-existent, and jails have failed to take simple hygiene measures like ensuring that people had sufficient soap and cleaning supplies.

In April 2020 the ACLU of Michigan and coalition partners filed a federal class action lawsuit against the Oakland County Jail for violating the constitutional rights of detainees by exposing them to an unacceptable risk of contagion. We even uncovered evidence that the jail transferred people from safer parts of the facility to places where the outbreak was the worst as punishment for complaining about jail conditions. Judge Linda Parker granted our motions for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, ordered the jail to improve its conditions and policies, and established a process for medically vulnerable inmates to seek release on bail.

Unfortunately, in July 2020 the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed by a vote of 2-1. The case is now back in the district court for further proceedings, including more comprehensive discovery regarding the jail’s response to this public health crisis. In a separate lawsuit by other organizations against the Wayne County Jail, we filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking the Michigan Court of Appeals and the Michigan Supreme Court to review a lower court’s decision denying relief, but the appellate courts refused to act.

(Cameron v. Bouchard; Wayne County Inmates v. Wayne County Sheriff; ACLU Attorneys Phil Mayor and Dan Korobkin; ACLU Cooperating Attorneys Syeda Davidson and Margo Schlanger; Krithika Santhanam and Thomas Harvey of the Advancement Project; Alex Twinem and Alec Karakatsanis of Civil Rights Corps; Cary McGehee and Kevin Carlson of Pitt McGehee Palmer & Rivers; Allison Kriger of LaRene & Kriger.)