Media Contact

Dana Chicklas, (734) 945-8857,

March 16, 2020


DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan (ACLU), together with Safe & Just Michigan and the American Friends Service Committee, are urging the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) and the state’s 83 county sheriffs to protect the health of the people in their custody and their staff by adopting proactive, evidence-based plans to appropriately prevent and manage the spread of COVID-19.

“People who are incarcerated in Michigan’s jails and prisons are highly vulnerable to the outbreak of COVID-19, and they have a constitutional right to timely and adequate health care,” said Dan Korobkin, ACLU of Michigan legal director. “Prison and jail administrators must take preventive measures to prevent an outbreak, ensure that appropriate medical treatment is provided if illness occurs, suspend visitation and other privileges only when absolutely necessary, and work with the parole board and local judges to eliminate or drastically reduce the number of vulnerable people behind bars.”

In letters sent individually to MDOC Director Heidi Washington and to the sheriff of every county, the ACLU and its partner organizations ask that they work closely with the Michigan Emergency Operations Center to develop and implement plans that evolve with the latest information to address the virus in Michigan jails and prisons. These plans must include proper education of people in their custody and staff, as well as staffing plans to ensure functions including food preparation and sanitation are uninterrupted. It is also crucial that there be ready access to warm water and hygiene supplies for handwashing and cleaning, then a clear plan of where to appropriately house anyone in custody exposed to the virus.

The letters also address the importance of not suspending visitation unless absolutely necessary, a critical issue in Michigan now that MDOC has halted in-person visits at all state prisons.

“Visitation can be staggered or reduced based on input from local public health officials, but should not be suspended indefinitely statewide,” said Korobkin. “Legal visits should continue uninterrupted, and video visitation should be made available at no charge to prisoners and their families during this time.”

Finally, the letters urge officials to utilize alternatives to incarceration for people who are at increased risk, including early release, bond reduction, pretrial diversion, parole, and medical clemency.