DETROIT — Families of men incarcerated at Michigan’s Kinross Correctional Facility believed its remote location would spare it from a deadly COVID-19 outbreak. For a while, they seemed to be right.
Kinross, built on the grounds of a former Air Force base in the Upper Peninsula, is closer to Canada than it is to Detroit. Unlike most prisons in Michigan, Kinross had remained almost unscathed by the novel coronavirus with only one case between March and October.
But on Oct. 28, corrections officials transferred nine prisoners to Kinross from Marquette Branch Prison, several hours west, where COVID-19 was running rampant. There were 837 confirmed cases by late October, 350 of which were still active when the men were transferred.
Roughly three weeks later, Kinross had its first major outbreak, corrections department data showed. Though agency officials say it’s not because of the transfers, more than 1,100 prisoners have now been infected, at least seven have died and more than 100 guards have fallen ill. The prisoners who came to Kinross had been transferred twice, sent first to Marquette after a riot where they were held, and then had tested positive for COVID-19 there before leaving for Kinross, officials said.
In prisons around the country, COVID-19 outbreaks have followed transfers of prisoners or prison workers. Nearly all of the 25 state prison systems and the federal Bureau of Prisons that responded to a survey conducted by The Marshall Project and The Associated Press said they had reduced or limited the number of prisoners they moved due to the pandemic. Eight states halted the practice except in special circumstances. The reductions were keeping in line with medical guidelines.
But most of those states lifted their restrictions by September and few prison systems heeded the earlier lessons as the pandemic worsened this winter, worrying families of prisoners and correctional officers who work in the prisons.