Inside Michigan’s Only Women’s Prison: Filth, Degradation, Inhumanity

File photo, Michigan Department Of Corrections Felony Records

What’s your opinion? Do U.S. citizens serving prison sentences deserve at least the same level of compassion, care, and concern being shown to illegal immigrants at the border? Comment below. 

Detroit Free Press – Five law firms filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court in Detroit on Wednesday, alleging chronic mold is at the top of a long list of problems harming the health of more than 2,000 inmates at Michigan’s “chaotic and perilous” prison for women.

Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility near Ypsilanti is overcrowded, understaffed, poorly managed and “operating under a state of degradation, filth, and inhumanity, endangering the health and safety of incarcerated women and staff alike daily,” the suit alleges.

The prison is humid and damp, partly as a result of a documented history of leaky roofs, and it has poor ventilation because its 44-year-old heating, cooling and air circulation system is overdue for replacement, according to the lawsuit. Those factors have combined to produce several varieties of toxic mold, the suit alleges.

“The mold has taken a significant toll on the women incarcerated in WHV, both physically and mentally,” the suit alleges.

“The mold has caused respiratory infections, coughing, wheezing, rashes, dizziness, and fatigue — all symptoms which, in turn, impact the inflicted’s mental health and which may lead to serious, long-lasting physical effects, such as asthma, life-threatening secondary infections, insomnia, memory loss, trouble concentrating and confusion.”

Corrections Department spokesman Chris Gautz said the agency does not comment on pending litigation, but the agency disagrees with the claims in the lawsuit.

Everyone who works at the women’s prison understands and takes seriously “their critical role in not only public safety, but in the health and safety of the prisoners and staff inside the facility,” Gautz said.

The Free Press has reported on prisoners’ complaints about black mold at the prison, including reports of prison officials telling inmates to paint over mold on walls in the shower areas. Gautz has repeatedly denied there is mold or unhealthy ventilation in the prison.

In July, the Free Press reported that state budget officials said a $488,000 project to replace restroom exhaust fans was needed because “existing exhaust fans are beyond repair … ” Read more. 

Mentally ill Michigan inmate died after water shut off in cell, family awarded $1.2M

Oct. 9, 2019

Detroit Free Press, LANSING – The Michigan Department of Corrections and its health care contractor will pay $1.25 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the son of a mentally ill prisoner who was left severely dehydrated and later died after officials shut off the water in her cell.

The settlement paid to the family of Darlene Martin, a prisoner at Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, is the latest in a series of six-figure or larger legal payouts this year resulting from alleged wrongdoing in the state prison system.

Martin was 66 when she was sent to prison in December 2013 for retail fraud.

Court records detail how her mental health quickly deteriorated and she was transferred to segregation in June 2014.

Before she was finally taken to a nearby hospital later that month, “she was saturated with filth and her feet were significantly pruned from standing in her own sewage, urine and excrement,” U.S. District Judge David Lawson wrote in 2018, when denying a motion from Corizon Health Inc. to dismiss the lawsuit.

Prison officials had shut off the water to Martin’s cell — purportedly as a punishment for allowing toilet water to spill on her blanket, according to court records.

More: Jury awards husband and wife prison employees $11.4M in racial discrimination case

Although she needed urgent medical treatment, prison staff continued to inject Martin with sedatives, without checking her vital signs, according to depositions in the case.

When she was finally taken to the hospital, Martin was diagnosed with respiratory failure, severe dehydration (described as a water deficit level of 11 liters), liver failure and renal failure.

Because of her dehydration and respiratory failure, she suffered severe brain damage and related complications that required 24-hour care in a health care facility.

She was paroled in April 2016 and died in October 2017, around the time her family sued. … Read more. 

Health concerns lead to about-face on repairs to women’s prison

July 15, 2019

Detroit Free Press, LANSING — After years of denials that ventilation problems are endangering inmates at Michigan’s only women’s prison, a state agency cited health concerns to justify spending nearly half a million dollars to install new exhaust fans in more than half the prison’s 15 units.

But after the Corrections Department complained about the Department of Technology, Management and Budget (DTMB) pointing to a lack of ventilation and health risks to justify the project at Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, DTMB retreated on the description Friday and said it made a mistake.

In restrooms and shower rooms in eight residential units at Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, “existing exhaust fans are beyond repair, resulting in limited to no ventilation,” DTMB said in an unsigned memo received July 9 by the Building Committee of the State Administrative Board.

“Lack of proper ventilation results in potential health and safety issues for prisoners and staff,” the department said in justifying a $488,000 no-bid add-on to an existing construction contract.

The description provided by DTMB is consistent with what current and former prisoners have repeatedly said about poor ventilation in the prison generally, and in the restrooms and shower rooms specifically.

Prisoners say a lack of ventilation in restrooms and shower rooms has caused moisture to bead on the ceilings, form mold and mildew, and drip on them while they use the facilities.

“It was just disgusting, and this mildewy drip would be on you,” said Tammy Jo Williams, who spent 10 years at the women’s prison, which houses more than 2,000 inmates, before her parole in November 2017.

Also, a 2018 physical plant report on Women’s Huron Valley documents much broader problems with the prison’s ventilation system, as well as both current and historical problems with leaky roofs and water damage … Read more. 

What’s your opinion? Do U.S. citizens serving prison sentences deserve at least the same level of compassion, care, and concern being shown to illegal immigrants at the border? Comment below. 

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