Appeals court voids order for Mich. jail releases

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled "the steps the Oakland County Jail had taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 were reasonable"


By Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

DETROIT — A federal appeals court Thursday vacated a judge’s order preparing for the possible release of medically vulnerable inmates from the Oakland County Jail.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled “the steps the Oakland County Jail had taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 were reasonable.”

Prisoners who sued the county, saying they were threatened by conditions in the lockup, were unlikely to prevail on the merits of their case, the appeals court ruled. The prisoners had sought remedial action, including the possible release of vulnerable detainees.

Because their case lacks merit, the appeals judges ruled, a preliminary injunction issued in May by U.S. District Judge Linda Parker is without effect.

In defending against prisoners’ complaints that they were in close contact with people who may have COVID-19, and that such placements were even used to discipline them, the county asserted that it had implemented a significant action plan to keep prisoners safe from the coronavirus.

On Friday, the county issued a statement saying the opinion of the federal appellate court “fully exonerates Sheriff Michael Bouchard and the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic with respect to the Oakland County Jail.”

“The Oakland County Jail continues to implement and maintain a significant number of procedures and preventative measures designed to protect the inmate population from the COVID-19 pandemic,” the county said in the statement.

“The Oakland County Jail is pleased to announce that there are currently no positive cases of COVID-19 in the Oakland County Jail. No Oakland County Jail inmate has been hospitalized because of COVID-19, nor has an Oakland County Jail inmate died because of COVID-19.

“Additionally, there are no current cases among any Corrections staff.”

On May 21, Parker ordered the county to provide a list of medically vulnerable inmates so the court could consider their release.

The information to be provided included names and health and criminal records.

“The purpose of this order is to enable the court to implement a system for considering the release on bond or other alternatives to detention in the jail” for the prisoners, who include defendants held on bail for trial, Parker ordered.

Cary McGehee, a lawyer for prisoners, said in May that her ruling “recognized the unique needs of the medically-vulnerable inmates and the inadequacy of the Oakland County Jail's policies to protect them from being infected with the COVID-19 virus."

McGehee said at least 200 inmates at the jail were medically vulnerable, and Parker’s order provided a national model for incarceration during the coronavirus.

Lawyers for the prisoners could not be immediately reached for comment Friday.

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©2020 The Detroit News

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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