CADILLAC — Like many things these days, regulations are changing fast for law enforcement including in the jails.
Recently, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order that protects vulnerable populations in Michigan's county jails, local lockups, and juvenile detention centers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The order temporarily suspends transfers into and from Michigan Department of Corrections facilities until risk-reduction protocols are adequately in place.
It also suspends provisions of the Jail Overcrowding Emergency Act to allow local officials more flexibility in releasing vulnerable populations who do not pose a threat to public safety, and orders the State Budget Office to immediately seek a legislative transfer so that jails may be reimbursed for lodging prisoners who would have been transferred to MDOC if not for that suspension of transfers.
The order also makes strong recommendations for juvenile detention centers across the state to mitigate the potential spread of COVID-19 in those facilities.
While a release from Whitmer's office said the executive order details risk-reduction protocols that have been adopted and implemented by the MDOC, Wexford County Sheriff Trent Taylor said he and the jail staff are still awaiting some clarification from the state.
“The health and safety of all Michiganders remains our top priority during this public health crisis and that includes those incarcerated in our jails and juvenile detention centers,‘ Whitmer said. “It is challenging for inmates and employees to practice social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19, and this Executive Order will put commonsense protocols into place to protect our jail and juvenile detention center populations.‘
As for the safety protocols the order entails, Taylor said his facility is already compliant.
"We have already done a lot of this stuff. We have emptied our jail and our headcount is low," he said. "We were averaging a little over 100 (inmates a day) and on April 6 we had 57 in-house."
The Michigan Department of Corrections will monitor and evaluate the risk of the spread of COVID-19 to the prison population every seven days and can lift the temporary suspension of transfers when sufficient risk-reduction protocols are in place.