Michigan father expresses concerns over the continued spread of COVID-19 in prison facilities

Posted at 6:11 PM, Jan 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-23 18:11:49-05

(WXYZ) — Ten of Michigan's 28 prisons are at critically low staffing levels right now. And while Omicron so far has only been confirmed at two facilities, that has done little to ease concerns of one metro Detroit father, whose son is still in prison.

"It's terrifying," the father said.

Elder Yusef Qualls' son, also named Yusef, is serving a lengthy sentence at Macomb correctional.

Back then, the elder was worried about the b.1.1.7 variant. Now, Omicron is keeping him up at night.

"It's amazing to me that the same scenario that we met under still exists," he said.

Qualls video calls with his son who says exposed inmates are not being adequately isolated.

"He's had consistently negative tests but he's currently right now in an area where there are three other people who are positive," he said.

"Our prison population is down to levels we haven't seen since the early 1990s," MDOC Spokesperson Chris Gautz said. "Because of that, we have an excess of 5,000 empty beds."

Gautz said covid fatigue, including amongst inmates when it comes to social distancing, has been a challenge.

The Macomb Correctional has not had a confirmed case of Omicron but as of Thursday, there were 469 active positive COVID cases amongst inmates and staff.

It is also one of 10 facilities where staffing is so low that employees can return to work five days after testing positive for COVID if they are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms.

Late last year, MDOC started a voluntary program to bring former corrections officers still working within MDOC temporarily back into that role.

"So rather than having current officers be continually mandated to work overtime, these former officers who work for us can suit up and go in and work that shift," Gautz said.

Testing supplies from Michigan prisons has been steady and inmates are given masks Gautz said.

However, Qualls says his son has at times, resorted to getting his own.

Quall's son, who is fully vaccinated, is next before a parole board in mid-June. Until then, he says he'll keep hope, and keep speaking up.

According to Guatz, around 70 percent of MDOC inmates are fully vaccinated and around 10,000 booster shots have been given.