COVID-19 outbreak prompts early release for non-violent county inmates

Posted at 7:58 AM, Mar 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-01 17:12:34-04

(WXYZ) — Social distancing isn’t always easy to practice, and in jail, it can sometimes be impossible. Which is why Sheriffs throughout metro Detroit are taking steps to thin their inmate populations – before COVID-19 takes hold.

"With most threats to human life or law enforcement, it’s visible. This is an invisible threat," Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard said.

Earlier this month, Bouchard submitted lists of 65 inmates that he believes could be released without endangering public safety.

"First, they have to be a non-violent offender with no history of violence before we move to the next level, and the next level is, is there a medical
condition they currently have, or they are at risk for this particular virus?" Bouchard added.

The ultimate decision is made by judges. So far, they ruled on only seven inmates: releasing three, and keeping four locked up.

"Obviously they’re not going to release violent offenders back out into the community," Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham said.

Over in Macomb County, the story is the same, where Wickersham says his staff is putting together a list of inmates that don’t need to be locked up.

They’re facing charges like retail fraud or property crimes – nothing violent. When new inmates are brought to the jail, the sheriff says they’re monitored by doctors for 3-5 days to make sure they’re not showing any symptoms…

"And at that point, medical staff will make the determination if we can put them up in general population," Wickersham said.

No Macomb or Oakland inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, but in Wayne County, at least 10 jail employees have.

"It’s not just willy nilly ,where people are getting to walk out the door because we’re lowering our numbers," Wayne County Undersheriff Dan Pfannes said.

He says while staff have tested positive, so far no inmates have. Pfannes expects between 75 and 100 Wayne County inmates will be set free.

"If you were that was here for assault with intent to murder or armed robbery or something along those lines, even if you were medically challenged, you’re not eligible for early release," he said.

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