GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. — The CEO of Humanity for Prisoners, an organization that represents inmates across Michigan in the prison system, says so many prisoners have contacted them about COVID-19 concerns, they had to make it its own category.
“They feel like sitting ducks, because they are sitting ducks,” Matt Tjapkes said. “There’s a lot of fear when it comes to COVID, and prisoners can’t control what comes in and out."
The B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19, which is said to be more contagious and potentially more dangerous, was identified in Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility in Ionia toward the start of February when a staff member became ill. Active cases there are nearing 400, and the U.K. variant is among them.
“We understand why they’re in prison; their incarceration should be their punishment. Not anything beyond that,” Tjapkes said.
Part of the problem is limited space to isolate inmates. Everyone who is in close contact with someone with COVID-19 is grouped together.
“If Person A is potentially positive, we find all their close contacts, and we group them together. Person in Group B, we group together their close contacts. The close contacts from Groups A and B don’t mix," MDOC Spokesperson Chris Gautz said.
The grouping of close contacts is the best option out of limited ones in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The CEO of Humanity for Prisoners disagrees.
“Basically, it feels like we’re taking all those close contacts, grouping them all together and saying, 'If you weren’t positive before, this almost makes sure you will be positive,'” Tjapkes said.