Baldwin prison confirms 1st inmate COVID-19 death

North Lake has 90 total inmate cases

North Lake Correctional Facility | Mary Minnick photo

North Lake Correctional Facility, the private, for-profit immigrant prison in rural Baldwin that has been plagued by hunger strikes and other controversies in the eight months since it opened, has confirmed its first inmate death due to COVID-19.

The death appeared on the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) website on Friday. A spokesperson for GEO Group, the Florida-based private company that owns the facility with a contract with the BOP, did not immediately respond to an inquiry seeking further details.

North Lake also now reports more cumulative COVID-19 prisoner cases than any of the BOP’s other privately-owned prisons.

In its daily statewide COVID-19 update Monday, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) reported that the state’s two Federal Correctional Institutes (FCIs) — North Lake and Milan — have a combined total of 146 inmate cases and four deaths.

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The BOP’s website, which only began reporting private prison figures in mid-May, shows a slightly higher total than the state’s at 162 cases.

According to the BOP, the North Lake facility has 27 active prisoner cases of COVID-19, 63 recovered prisoners and one death. The Milan facility reports four prisoners currently positive for COVID-19, with 68 inmates recovered and three deaths.

DHHS spokesperson Bob Wheaton confirmed that “recovered” cases are combined with current positive cases to come up with the state’s cumulative positive numbers for each jurisdiction.

To that end, North Lake has 90 cumulative positive cases and Milan has 72. North Lake has more cases than any of the BOP’s other four privately managed prisons in Georgia, Oklahoma and North Carolina.

And as is the case with those private prisons, no information about staff COVID-19 data for North Lake is available online.

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A spokesperson for GEO Group did say that as of Monday, a total of 23 staff members at North Lake have tested positive for COVID-19. Four of the employees who tested positive are at home on self-quarantine, while 19 have “fully recovered and returned to work after meeting the return-to-work guidelines for essential workers issued by the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention].”

Out of those 23 staffers, nine reside in Mason County, four in Osceola County, three in Mecosta County, two in Montcalm County, two in Lake County, one in Wexford County, one in Oceana County and one in Newaygo County.

The GEO spokesperson added that inmates who may have been exposed to those employees “will be monitored by medical staff for their health and wellbeing, consistent with the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control.”

A BOP spokesperson said there are no plans to add this data about staff cases to the website, as “we do not speak on behalf of these corporations’ employees. Similarly, we are not issuing press releases on deaths of inmates at privately contracted prisons.”

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Unlike Michigan’s 29 state prisons run by the Michigan Department of Corrections (DOC), which provide detailed COVID-19 testing data to the state each day that the DOC then posts online, the BOP has not made that information publicly available.

In a previous email, the BOP spokesperson referred specific questions to GEO Group and said the BOP is “not posting the number of inmates tested or commenting on specific conditions or operations at a privately contracted prison other than to confirm that the BOP’s COVID-19 guidance is being shared with private prisons for dissemination to staff and inmates in these facilities so that similar protocols can be implemented.”