"Jail cell 08" by jaggededge27 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Flint, MI– “Have I been left to die in prison?”

Flint resident Tony Roy wrote this from his prison cell at the Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater, MI. He’s been there for eight years now, and was given the possibility of early release with parole in August of 2021 on the condition that he complete substance abuse programming.

But since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, the availability of those classes has been on and off. For the last three weeks, it’s been off. 

“I served my time. I want to come home,” Roy said. “They stopped the classes, and the government is doing nothing about it.”

According to the Michigan Department of Corrections Public Information Officer Chris Gautz, the programming was paused due to a serious surge in COVID-19 cases.  

“Shortly before Christmas, we had a couple hundred positive prisoner cases statewide,” Gautz said. “Today, we have almost 5,000. So the numbers have really exploded. … In order to protect the staff and the prisoners from further spread, we have to pause situations in which we have large groups of individuals in an enclosed space like a classroom right now.”

Gautz said the pause in programming is affecting about 2,000 imprisoned people in Michigan, with about 500 of them currently eligible for release. Of those 500, he said about 250 people are serving time for sex offenses, and must complete intensive and time-consuming programming before being released.

“So it’s not like they would have been released last week but for the pausing,” Gautz said. “So really, it’s about 250 prisoners who are in this category, and even those prisoners, it’s not a guarantee that by completing this class that they would be released. There could be a lot of other factors that the board would look at.”

Gautz said there a variety of classes– substance abuse, domestic violence, sexual offenses against children, among them. Some classes take a few months, and some take longer. 

But virtual classes are not an option in the state’s eyes. 

“The evidence clearly shows that the way in which these classes are most effective is if they are delivered in person, in a group setting, where there’s an instructor in the room able to lead these classes,” Gautz said. “And are able to hear and see, you know, that the prisoners are taking part, that they’re fully involved, that they’re taking in the information, that they’re participating.”

This means the people relying on these classes for their release just have to wait until COVID-19 “numbers decline.” After two years of a pandemic, Roy said he doesn’t think COVID will ever clear up. 

“People want their families home. I’m a grandfather of five. I’ve got jobs set up for once I get out,” Roy said. “I was scheduled to get married on May 4, 2022.”

Gautz said it’s not unexpected that imprisoned people are frustrated by the pause in programming, but that he hopes “they also know that this has been done for their safety, and for the safety of our staff.” 

But Roy said the Lakeland Correctional Facility’s safety measures are missing the mark. 

“Those who are actually innocent; who were judicially deprived; who are being unconstitutionally detained; and who are repeatedly having their earliest release dates systematically encroached by the Michigan Parole Board, are being compelled to face another Covid-19 outbreak with subpar medical and/or rehabilitation options,” Roy wrote. 

He said the quarantine units that people are being housed in are “unequivocally inadequate, deplorably congested, and lacking sanitation and/or waste systems.”

“Our constant fear of death is disquieting and creates a state of despair that is mentally and psychologically captivating!” he wrote.

Amy Diaz

Amy Diaz is a journalist hailing from St. Petersburg, FL. She has written for multiple local newspapers in her hometown before becoming a full-time reporter for Flint Beat. When she’s not writing you...

10 replies on “‘Have I been left to die?’: COVID-19 surge delays release of Michigan prisoners”

    1. Mr. Robert Jones you missing the whole point this has nothing to do with not being able to do the time maybe you should reread the article this is about a man who has done his time and some this is about the deplorable conditions that they are being forced to endure in the name of (covid) personally i think it’s a excuse now as far as those who need classes that are in there for sexual assaults i get that but other than that I think that they should be able to come up with some kind of solution to get these individuals home to there families i also think you should have some decency but i think that would be to much anywho …

  1. Robert Jones that is my fiancé whom you know nothing about. He never said he didnt do the crime but he has DEF served his time. So please go on with yourself.

  2. Mr. Jones, go back to school please. Also grab a class on compassion too, if you would. Just because ppl make mistakes or commit crimes, DOES NOT mean they deserved to be treated so horribly. This man, whom is my very dear friend, did not kill or hurt anybody. Did he screw up, sure. But he is not a monster and he DID do his time and then some so do not speak on something so heartlessly that you have no clue on. Would you feel the same if that was YOUR child, friend or family member?? They still deserve medical treatment and legit safety measures just like the rest of us. There should be some way of releasing those that were set to be released before covid hit or are not a threat to society. They are still human and do not deserve their lives snuffed out over mistakes and heartless mentality when lives are very clearly at stake.

  3. I was fortunate to be held only one month past my release date for the same reason. I was in huron Valley with women who were held a year or more past their release dates. Women who had babies at home and no misconduct. Were held up solely due to programming that wasn’t even being offered. I’m glad this is FINALLY getting attention!

  4. I’m sorry for him having to stay past his POSSIBLE release date. My question is… If he knew these classes had to be done , why wait until the last minute to do them? Or was it a situation that you had to do them right before you were to see the parole board? You should use your time wisely and not procrastinate. Hopefully he wasn’t a procrastinator, if he was, I have no sympathy for him. Live and Learn.

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