What’s going on in Michigan? According to this DFP report, prisoners are dying at the highest rate in 25 years. Whats even more alarming is the cover up going on across Michigan prisons.
Deaths in Michigan prisons spiked in 2018 to the highest rate in at least 25 years.
And a Free Press investigation, using Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act, found the Michigan Department of Corrections has not accurately or consistently tracked the number of prison deaths, as required by the U.S. Justice Department, and no longer counts all prison deaths in an annual report sent to the Legislature, which alarms groups advocating for prisoners and their families.
The 135 state prison deaths reported to the federal government for 2018 was the highest number reported since 2009, when 148 Michigan prisoners died. But the state prison population has shrunk by nearly 7,000 inmates since then. The rate of Michigan prison deaths in 2018 surpassed 2009 and was the highest since at least 1994, based on state records and reports sent to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Nowhere was the increase in deaths more pronounced than at Michigan’s only women’s prison, the crowded Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility near Ypsilanti, where there were 10 prisoner deaths in 2018 — more than double the number reported there in any year since 2010.
A Free Press investigation found:
- The 2018 Michigan prison death rate of 348 deaths per 100,000 prisoners surpassed the 2009 rate of 325 deaths per 100,000 prisoners — the previous high since at least 1994, based on available records. Nationwide, the state prison death rate was 256 per 100,000 prisoners between 2001 and 2014, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
- The 2018 death rate at Women’s Huron Valley, which was experiencing a yearlong and undiagnosed scabies outbreak documented by the Free Press, was 483 per 100,000 prisoners, or 89% higher than the national prison death rate.
- State lawmakers would have no way of knowing about the surge in Michigan prison deaths. The department’s 2018 annual statistical report, which prison officials said will report 135 deaths, had not been published on the department’s website as of Wednesday. And in February 2016, the department unilaterally, and without notifying lawmakers, changed the long-standing definition of a “critical incident” to exclude deaths that prison officials deem to be the result of terminal illnesses.
- Critical incidents, which until 2016 included all deaths, along with assaults, injuries, escape attempts, and major events such as a fire or a furnace failure, generate detailed reporting and under state law must be counted, categorized, and communicated to the Legislature. The most recent annual report on critical incidents, submitted to the Legislature March 1, referenced only 44 prison deaths statewide in 2018, of which five were at the women’s prison. The report did not explain that the definition of a critical incident had changed, though the change was added to a long list of policy directives on the department’s website.