FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
OAKLAND COUNY, Mich. – Today the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan (ACLU) together with the Advancement Project National Office; Civil Rights Corps (CRC); and the law firms LaRene & Kriger PLC and Pitt McGehee Palmer Bonanni & Rivers P.C. filed a motion seeking court approval of a settlement in their lawsuit against Oakland County, Sheriff Michael Bouchard, and the Oakland County Jail administration regarding the conditions in the Jail during the ongoing pandemic. A key component of the settlement includes the Jail making a COVID-19 vaccine available to everyone who will be housed in the Jail for more than a week.
The federal class action lawsuit, Cameron et al. v. Bouchard et al., was filed in federal court in April 2020. It alleged that the conditions in the Oakland County Jail violated the rights of people incarcerated there by not providing adequate safety measures, including failing to meet public health sanitization and social distancing guidelines in response to COVID-19. At the time the lawsuit was filed, people who were incarcerated there did not have enough soap and sanitizer, were unable to socially distance living in crowded quarters, and faced retaliation from Jail staff when they sought help to protect themselves from the deadly virus.
“A jail sentence should never be a death sentence,” said Phil Mayor, ACLU of Michigan senior staff attorney. “The conditions at the Oakland County Jail were harsh and unsanitary long before the pandemic, but the COVID-19 virus meant those conditions could become deadly. While we are relieved to reach this settlement, the virus is still a threat for people who are incarcerated, especially anyone who is medically vulnerable. The Oakland County Jail and administrators must work to ensure people are educated about how the vaccine works and offer them their rightful opportunity to be vaccinated immediately.”
Today’s settlement requires the Jail to follow numerous policies to protect the health and safety of the people housed there. If approved by the judge, the settlement will require, in part, the Oakland County Jail to:
Make a COVID-19 vaccine available to everyone who will be housed in the Jail for more than a week, and provide that anyone who declines a vaccination will receive individual counseling and the opportunity to view a video produced by the plaintiffs’ attorneys in cooperation with medical experts and returning citizens regarding vaccine safety and efficacy;
Provide all incarcerated people in the Jail with adequate soap, hand towels, toilet paper, disinfectant spray effective against COVID-19, and sponges, disinfectant wipes, or rags to clean common areas;
Also provide all people incarcerated at the Jail with access to daily showers and regular clean laundry, as well as clean masks to be replaced upon reasonable request;
Require all Jail employees to wear masks and wash their hands in accordance with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines before and after touching any person, Jail cells, or common areas;
Require all Jail employees to provide prompt COVID-19 testing for anyone incarcerated who requests a test, shows symptoms, or resides in a cell with someone who became ill; and
Ensure that if someone tests positive for the virus, they will receive adequate medical care and be quarantined somewhere with continued access to all the services listed above, like showers and phone and video calls, along with their belongings.
“The Oakland County Jail has a fundamental responsibility to ensure the health and safety of people detained there,” said Alex Twinem, an attorney for Civil Rights Corps. “This settlement requires the Jail continue following basic measures to keep people safe from the virus and even further, engages trusted community voices to address vaccine hesitancy among people in the Jail and returning citizens.”
“It is a disturbing reality that jails and prisons are places of violence replete with inhumane and insufferable conditions on their best day; COVID-19 did not create these conditions, but it exacerbated them,” said Marques Banks, Staff Attorney for the Justice Project at Advancement Project National Office. “This lawsuit made clear that jails were not equipped to handle the pandemic. Today’s settlement will help deliver the people inside the Oakland County jail urgent protections against COVID-19, including the opportunity to get vaccinated; we will remain watchful and vigilant to ensure that jail officials meet their obligations to the people they are caging.”
In addition to the ACLU, Advancement Project, CRC, LaRene & Kriger PLC, and Pitt McGehee Palmer Bonanni & Rivers P.C., Michigan Liberation played an integral part in the settlement of this lawsuit. The organization helped create the vaccine efficacy video that will be shown to people incarcerated at the Jail and will be staffing a hotline for people who are incarcerated to call and talk with someone about the vaccine.