Image by United Nations COVID-19 Response via Unsplash

The recent COVID-19 crisis sheds light on the need for 6 feet of separation between people in order to stop the spread of disease. In our prisons that separation is impossible. Most prisons hold two men to a cell 8’x10’ or 10’x12’ in size. But Michigan has cubes and dorms to house prisoners, where 6-foot spacing is impossible. 

I’m housed at the Kinross Correctional Facility (KCF) which has pole barns holding eight-man cubes. A unit houses 160 men in half the building. The cubes are each 12’x18’ in size. Each cube has four bunk beds, eight lockers, eight chairs and one table. Six feet of spacing how? Impossible!

Some changes have been made since the COVID-19 outbreak began. The general library operation has changed. We can’t go into the library and sit to read newspapers and magazines. We now go to an outside window to check out books. The law library only takes five people at a time for computer use. Only every other computer can be used. Still not six feet apart. The chow hall now requires every other seat to be used but still not six feet apart. And what about the weight room? Oh, that’s still operating the same as always close proximity, sweating and hard breathing. But that’s not a virus transmitting environment! Impossible!

Someone decided that no longer would single-man housing be used in lower security levels. Most of the cells were converted by adding bunk beds to two man cells. With that change it became all right to have cube and dorm housing. Temporary pole barns were built 20 or 30 years ago and they are still in use today.

How is it not cruel and unusual, especially during this crisis, to be housed this way? The Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines call for 6 feet of space between people to help stop the spread of this potentially deadly virus. How is it not deliberate indifference on the state’s part? Prisoners should be housed safely.

It’s known that sentence length is not a deterrent to crime, so why does the state of Michigan keep giving long sentences that can’t be sustained? Wouldn’t it be more sensible to be educating prisoners instead of just housing them? 

Our nation needs its people to be resources. There are many in prison with the potential to be educated and become productive resources. But do we invest in them? No, we put them in prison and punish them. No education is going on! Will COVID-19 wake us up?

Prison populations need to be reduced to give the space needed to stop the spread of disease. This isn’t the last pandemic that we will see. So stop putting bandaids on problems and invest in real cures. Educate so there is no need to have overcrowded prisons and  there will be ample space for distancing. Maybe all of us can feel safer. It’s possible.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

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Matthew Milbourn

Matthew Milbourn is a writer incarcerated in Michigan. A Michigan native, Matthew calls himself “a journeyman and skilled tradesman.”