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Sam McCann, Neighborhood Defender Service, (703) 867-1972 ( Diallo, Wayne County Criminal Defense Bar Association, (313) 719-8819  (
Desiree M. Ferguson, Detroit Justice Center, (313) 319-8259 (


The COVID-19 pandemic presents a grave and unprecedented threat to public health, one exacerbated by the conditions in Michigan’s jails and prisons. We are pleased to see Governor Whitmer take action by issuing an Executive Order that seeks to reduce the number of incarcerated people in the state and keep those who remain incarcerated safe. What happens inside our jails and prisons impacts the rest of the state and beyond, and the Governor’s order aligns with our earlier call to release those who are at highest risk of complications from the Coronavirus.


While we applaud this decision, it is clear that much more is needed to keep our communities safe during this time, particularly as Detroit grapples with one of the country’s largest outbreaks. To avoid needlessly cycling more people through our jails and prisons – as the Executive Order seeks to prevent – we call for an immediate moratorium on all arrests by the Detroit Police Department where there is no imminent threat of death, bodily injury or emotional duress.


County jails and prisons are breeding grounds for infectious disease, including the highly-contagious COVID-19. Social distancing is impossible in a facility in which hundreds of people are confined to small spaces and forced to share cells, recreation areas, mess halls, etc. It is no secret that access to healthcare in prisons and jails is woefully inadequate. The jail and prison health systems are simply not equipped to handle a global pandemic.


Arrests by Detroit Police Department pose a serious public health risk – not only to our clients but also to police officers, jail staff, court staff, and to the community at large. The vast majority of people arrested will be released after cycling through the COVID-19-infected jail system. These people then return home to their families and communities, contributing to the spread of COVID-19. Similarly, police officers, jail staff and court staff work their shifts without the proper personal protective equipment to guard against the transmission of the virus and return home to their families and communities at the end of their shifts, putting us all at risk.


The best solution is to avoid unnecessary arrests and detention. To that end, we call for Police Chief James Craig to direct his officers to only arrest individuals if there is an imminent threat of death, bodily injury or emotional duress.


The continued arrest and incarceration of our neighbors could very well carry a death sentence. We must recognize that protecting public health is paramount to achieving public safety. We implore the Detroit Police Department to exercise its authority in a way that limits the spread of the virus and flattens the curve. These unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures.