For immediate release: 5/4/2020
By the time of its mailing on Monday, May 4th, more than 45 relatives and loved ones of people incarcerated at the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Michigan had signed a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Prisons regarding the COVID-19 outbreak at North Lake. The GEO Group, which owns and manages this private prison holding non-U.S. citizens convicted of federal crimes, has refused to release any information on positive test results for COVID-19 among incarcerated people, despite knowing of cases among staff since the first week of April. On Monday, April 20th, the Michigan Advance reported that the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services had confirmed nine diagnoses of the virus among incarcerated people at North Lake.
“My loved one is 64 and sick,” said Elsa, a signatory to the letter, on Friday. “All they do is take their temperature. He always tells me he loves me like it’s goodbye.”
No Detention Centers in Michigan joins over 35 other organizations from around the state and the country who have also signed the letter, demanding transparency, a commitment to protect public health by releasing more people throughout the federal prison system, and a recognition of how the GEO Group has mishandled the crisis.
Limited information coming from the prison in recent days has continued to reflect rapidly worsening conditions. “We don’t know if there are 20 or 200 people or more infected,” said Richard Kessler, an immigration attorney in Grand Rapids. “There is simply no transparency. We’ve heard from people on the inside of possible unconfirmed deaths from COVID-19. We have also heard that many of the people detained there were just given face masks within the last couple of days, and are forced to live and eat in very confined areas. We do not want this to turn into a situation like many of the other federal prisons where there are estimates that over 70% of persons are infected.”
“They go around and just take names like they’re doing something,” said Candy, another signatory to the letter, on Friday. “All they say is ‘We’ll see what we can do.’ I just talked to my boyfriend and he’s been complaining for two or three days about getting something because he’s having trouble breathing. They do nothing.”
“This prison is a nightmare and the GEO Group can’t keep anyone safe,” said JR Martin, a member of No Detention Centers in Michigan. “When we organize in solidarity and talk about hearing from people who are distraught because their loved ones are at risk and they can’t find any information on what’s happening, GEO accuses us of introducing a political agenda into a neutral situation. But we know that GEO’s own agenda is to profit from incarceration, and the company donated thousands of dollars to Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. When we note their complicity in this suffering, GEO falls back on the reminder that COVID-19 is a terrible crisis throughout public prisons as well as their private facilities. We think that’s exactly the point. The fight against shadow prisons like North Lake is just one part of a broad, critical struggle for abolition. We’re focused on GEO because they’re making money from locking up immigrants in Baldwin, they’re keeping the COVID-19 cases secret, and people need to know about it.”
George Zoley, the founder and CEO of the GEO Group, expressed financial optimism during the company’s quarterly earnings call on April 30th, a transcript of which is available online: “Despite this quarter’s many challenges our revenues and cash flows remained resilient and continue to support our dividend payments.”