Dozens of inmates show signs of illness; quarantine issued

Posted at 10:48 PM, May 11, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-11 22:48:58-04

IONIA, Mich. — Dozens of inmates at the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility are fighting what’s being referred to as a ‘gastrointestinal illness.’

Concerns over food-related issues within Michigan’s prison system have been well documented in recent months.   However, the source of this particular illness is still under investigation.

Chris Gautz, spokesperson for the Department of Corrections, said a bout with this kind of illness isn’t new at Handlon Correctional Facility.

“We’ve had things like this at other prisons and it seems to be that time of the year,” Gautz said. “Especially a viral thing like this that can spread rather quickly when you have a lot of people in close quarters.”

Gautz understands the severity of a gastrointestinal outbreak in the prison.

“You might have nine that are sick one day and none the next, but a dozen the next,” said Gautz.

At Handlon Correctional Facility, Gautz said about 100 inmates have experienced symptoms of the illness since May 2; 18 of them are under quarantine as of Monday.

“It sort of gets magnified in a prison, because if one person gets sick and you are home, that’s one thing,” said Gautz. “If you’re in a prison housing unit with two hundred other people, things can spread.”

The Department of Corrections said it’s working to keep any kind of virus from spreading.

But Tammy Hall, a relative of two siblings in the prison system, is worried there isn’t enough being done. After speaking with those siblings, she tells FOX 17 the food may be the source of the problem.

“He would hold his nose to drink spoiled milk,” said Hall. “It’s definitely serving spoiled and rotten food, that’s not a win for the prisoners.”

However, Gautz said it’s too early to blame any one source.

“They’ve been running tests and they haven’t been able to determine the source at this time,” said Gautz. “I don’t think it’s related to the food or anything else.”

With nearly 10 percent of the inmates experiencing symptoms, Gautz said the quarantine is a necessity.

“We’re routinely cleaning the bathroom with bleach and other cleaning products where they’re staying,” said Gautz.

The facility is still running tests and treating inmates still sick. The prison did not prohibit visiting hours so family and friends can still visit with their loved ones.