Media Contact

Ann Mullen, (313) 400-8562 

March 30, 2020


DETROIT, Mich. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan applauds Governor Gretchen Whitmer for issuing an Executive Order Sunday evening to reduce the spread of Covid-19 in prisons, jails and juvenile detention centers statewide.  The Governor’s order includes emergency measures, modifying the County Jail Overcrowding Act (CJOA), creating an immediate path for all county sheriffs and courts to significantly reduce the population of crowded jail facilities.  As a result, jails and courts now have broad powers to immediately release people who are locked up while awaiting trial or who are nearing the end of their sentence, and to suspend or shorten sentences.  The Governor also has called for the elimination of juvenile detention or residential facility placement unless a child is determined to be a safety risk to others.

The Governor’s order specifically urges sheriffs and courts across the state to release all people who do not pose a public safety risk and are:


Have chronic conditions or are medically frail;


Nearing their release date;

Locked up for a traffic violation, failure to appear or failure to pay; or

Can be safely diverted for treatment of behavioral health problems.

Dan Korobkin, ACLU of Michigan Legal Director, has this reaction:  

“People in jails and prisons are highly vulnerable to outbreaks of contagious illnesses. COVID-19 can spread quickly in close quarters, and the consequences can be devastating.  The Governor’s executive order gives sheriffs and courts across the state the power to curb this pandemic by safely but swiftly reducing our jail population.  Over the next few weeks, they will play an enormously critical role in whether the infection rates for the people in their custody will continue to rise or fall.  Carrying out the Governor’s executive order will prevent the spread of COVID-19 and save lives.  We urge them to do so for the sake of the people locked up, jail staff, and the community at large. The time to act is now.”

The Governor’s order empowers courts and sheriffs to implement the recommendations of Chief Justice Bridget M. McCormack of the Michigan Supreme Court and Sheriff Matt Saxton of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association, who last week issued a joint statement recommending critical steps the courts and law enforcement officials should take to reduce the jail population to curb the spread of COVID-19, emphasizing that these measures “will save lives.” 

Their recommendations included reducing and suspending jail sentences for people who do not pose a public safety risk, releasing “far more people” on their own recognizance, using jail alternatives such as probation and treatment programs, and limiting arrests to situations where someone poses an immediate threat to the community.  

The order did not include specific measures to release people from state prisons. The ACLU will be urging the Governor to implement similar emergency measures for those facilities and to expedite parole and clemency procedures to further protect the health and safety of incarcerated individuals who can be safely released.