Coronavirus concerns grow at North Lake Correctional

Facility says inmates have access to clean water, soap

BALDWIN – Concern for inmates at North Lake Correctional Facility grow as allegations of overcrowding and substandard living continue to surface.

According to the advocacy group, No Detention Centers in Michigan, more than 400 prisoners were transferred to North Lake from Taft Correctional Institution in Bakersfield, California, which was set to close April 30.

“Since they were not prepared to receive all those new inmates, North Lake does not have enough sanitary supplies to keep these inmates safe,” said Victoria Limon, whose brother was one of the inmates transferred from Bakersfield. “They also do not have enough room in the prison for them, so they have low security inmates locked up in high maximum-security pods. Inmates are getting fed frozen food due to lack of staff.”

Also of concern is the facility’s ability to prevent and contain cases of coronavirus. According to Michigan Advance, North Lake reported nine inmates and at least five staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19 to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services between April 13-20.

The number of cases could be more. As of April 27, MDHHS reported 81 confirmed cases and one death in the state’s two Federal Correctional Institutes — Milan Federal Correctional Institution and North Lake Correctional Facility.

According to the daily report posted by the Federal Board of Prisons, 34 inmates and 35 staff members at the facility in Milan have tested positive, along with the one death. The report does not include numbers for North Lake, which is privately-owned and operated by GEO Group.

“I’m extremely worried about everyone in there, specially my brother he will be in very high risk if he were to get infected,” Limon said. “Last time I spoke to him he was feeling sick already. The problem is that he will not get the medical attention he needs and that scares me so much.”

GEO Group denies the allegations.

“To be clear, our company plays no role in determining which individuals are transferred to the North Lake Correctional Facility, which exclusively houses non-U.S. citizens convicted of federal crimes. Such decisions are made exclusively by the federal government,” GEO Group said in a statement. “Furthermore, correctional facilities around the country and in the state of Michigan are not immune to the impact of COVID-19 and face similar challenges in mitigating the risk of COVID-19.

“We take our responsibility to ensure the health and safety of all those in our care and our employees with the utmost seriousness, and we reject efforts by outside groups to advance politically-motivated agendas in the face of the unprecedented health crisis facing our country.”

According to the statement, North Lake provides inmates “access to regular handwashing with clean water and soap in all housing areas and throughout the facility; provides 24/7 access to healthcare; and is equipped with Airborne Infection Isolation Rooms.”

But in a phone call with No Detention Centers on April 20, an immigrant incarcerated at North Lake described a “climate of indifference, dishonesty and extreme negligence that led to the mounting cases of the virus,” said J.R. Martin, a spokesperson for No Detention Centers.

“They were still moving people from other places, like especially California. And then when we tell them what was going on, they thought it was a joke. They would laugh about it,” the inmate said. “The major told us not to listen to the news. That it wasn’t really happening. … They didn’t take it seriously. They laughed when we told them they could wear gloves, wear masks.”

Relatives of inmates have taken further steps to address their concerns. According to a news release from No Detention Centers in Michigan, a letter with 45 signatures was mailed Monday, May 4, to the Federal Board of Prisons, demanding transparency and action to protected those incarcerated at North Lake. Thirty-five other organizations from across the country also signed the letter.