For immediate release: 5/9/2020
On Friday, May 8th, amid news of countless sick people going without treatment and multiple reports of deaths at the facility due to COVID-19, immigrants incarcerated in the general population at the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Michigan confirmed that everyone held in at least one unit would be launching a coordinated hunger strike. The strikers, potentially numbering in the hundreds, are demanding that all those incarcerated at the facility be tested immediately for the virus and receive adequate medical attention. Michigan’s only private prison, North Lake is owned and managed by the GEO Group and holds non-U.S. citizens convicted of federal crimes.
Also on Friday, more than a month after the first knowledge of COVID-19 cases among GEO staff in Baldwin, the Federal Bureau of Prisons released limited data on coronavirus cases among incarcerated people in contract prisons such as North Lake. While private facilities still do not appear on the BOP’s online map of cases, a new subsection on their COVID-19 resource page documents 120 “lab-confirmed positive tests” in these facilities, including 54 people said to have recovered (their location unspecified), and 18 of the 66 remaining positives situated at the North Lake Correctional Facility. This puts North Lake second on the list of such infections among private federal prisons nationwide, following the Great Plains Correctional Facility in Oklahoma, also operated by the GEO Group.
Because only a portion of incarcerated people with symptoms have so far been tested, the true number of infections is likely much higher. “There’s a lot of people sick in here,” an immigrant imprisoned at North Lake stated on May 5th, adding that staff had been testing only those who exhibited a high fever (one of many possible symptoms of the virus), and that one person who needed emergency medical care on the previous day had been forced to wait five hours before passing out on the floor foaming at the mouth and being carried out by a cellmate. “So the guy went to the emergency room and we haven’t heard since then,” he said. “Things have been horrible here.”
“My husband let staff know that he had been feeling the chills a few days ago,” said Leasha, the wife of one person incarcerated at North Lake, “and then his eye got super red and now he’s lost his sense of smell and he has burning pain in his back near his lungs. A doctor screened him and said he was fine because he didn’t have a fever. He said a guy in the cell next to him had similar symptoms and they haven’t been quarantined, just given Tylenol and threatened that they’ll be moved if they keep claiming they’re sick.”
“I am so fearful for his life,” said the spouse of another incarcerated person on Friday. “The conditions in this facility are deplorable and not once since this global pandemic began has my husband ever seen anyone clean. I am very worried for these men. They were told ‘everyone is going to be locked back up.’ All of the men said no, and now they are all on a hunger strike. The inmates in this facility are human beings and they have people on the outside who love them. I wish the facility would value these men’s lives more because they are not just inmates, they are someone else’s whole world.”