All 644 inmates at the Genesee County Jail in downtown Flint are drinking bottled water provided by the state.
Genesee County Sheriff Robert Pickell said even though the latest test results show tap water to be safe for drinking, the move is out of an abundance of caution.
"I just feel that it’s in everybody’s best interest at this time to just use bottled water," Pickell said.
This is the second time the jail has switched to bottled water in recent months. The first happened last October, when testing showed trace amounts of lead in tap water.
The jail provided bottled water and dry food - food prepared without water - for five days before switching back to tap water when further testing came back okay.
But now at least one former jail inmate claims there should have been more scrutiny and more protection for people like him.
Former Genesee County inmate Jody Cramer told progressive media outlet Democracy Now that guards and staff at the jail were getting bottled water while inmates were told to drink from the tap.
Activists at the jail Friday said they heard similar reports from current inmates.
“I had heard actually there was a point in time where women in the jail could see bottled water stacked up outside," said Grover Easterling from Black Lives Matter Detroit. "They had been asking the guards if there was any way they could be - even if they were just shackled - if they could be brought out there so they could get some of the bottled water that was being given out. They said no," he added.
Sheriff Pickell said that's not true, and that jail staff were never given preferential treatment over inmates.
“Unless [staff] brought the bottled water from home, I mean I would have no way of knowing that," Pickell said, adding, "but I wasn’t providing them with anything. I think when we started providing the inmates that’s when we started providing staff."
Pickell said the latest tests came back clean for all except one of the faucets at the jail.
Pickell said the jail is providing two large bottles of water a day to each inmate, and also spending an extra $8,000 a week for dry food.
“You know these inmates, they’re somebody’s son, somebody’s daughter, they’re human beings. I want to do everything I can to protect them,” Pickell said.
Calls to Jody Cramer for comment were not returned Friday.