Joint Statement

Civil Rights Coalition Urges Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Michigan Health Department to Prioritize Vaccinating People who are Incarcerated 

January 13, 2021 
CONTACT: Dana Chicklas, (734) 945-8857, 

DETROIT – Today a coalition of civil rights organizations sent a letter to Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon, urging the state to prioritize COVID-19 vaccinations for people who live in correctional facilities statewide, just as the state has prioritized vaccinations for people who work in these facilities and people who live in other congregate settings. The coalition sent the letter after previously raising these points prior to the updated release of guidelines as part of an ongoing effort to persuade the Governor and MDHHS to treat everyone in congregate living situations equally, because:   

  • The average rate of COVID-19 cases among people incarcerated statewide is 983% higher than Michigan’s overall rate, and the mortality rate is 133% higher than Michigan overall.  
  • In Michigan prisons, there have been at least 22,629 cases of COVID-19, the third-highest rate in the country, and at least 121 deaths, the second-highest rate in the country. 
  • Statewide, more than 2,000 people incarcerated have been infected, and 20 people incarcerated have died of COVID-19, in the last month alone.  

“Prioritizing who in Michigan gets the COVID-19 vaccine and when they get it must be guided by public health policies,” said Syeda Davidson, ACLU of Michigan senior staff attorney. “Failing to prioritize people living in jails and prisons defies the recommendations of experts in this field, who recognize that vaccinating this highly vulnerable population as soon as possible is critical to protecting public health. This virus is infecting and killing people who are incarcerated at alarmingly high rates as compared to the general public, and the only way to stop it is to prioritize vaccinations for people in prisons and jails.” 

While the MDHHS guidance prioritizes people who live in other congregate living settings, like adult foster care homes and psychiatric facilities, as well as staff for correctional facilities, the guidance excludes people living in correctional facilities from any level of prioritization.  

The letter also addresses the racial implications of excluding people who are incarcerated from being prioritized to receive the vaccine. Gov. Whitmer recognized through executive directive last year that racism is a public health crisis, and that this pandemic exacerbates the inequities caused by systemic racism.  
“Both the offices of Governor Whitmer and MDHHS have consistently and rightfully followed public health experts’ guidelines while addressing this pandemic – including the recognition that this deadly virus is disproportionately ravishing the Black community,” said Jonathan Sacks, State Appellate Defender Office director. “Leaving people in jails and prisons out of the state’s vaccine priority plan is contributing to the systemic racism Governor Whitmer and her administration has been fighting so hard to dismantle. Prioritizing people incarcerated is critical in fighting systemic racism in Michigan.”   
COVID-19 is infecting Black Michigan residents more than three times the rate of white Michigan residents, and the Black death rate is more than four times higher than whites. Black people are also over-incarcerated compared to white people. While the Black population is 14 percent in Michigan, they are 49 percent of the Michigan’s jail and prison population. 

“This unprecedented, deadly pandemic is disproportionately infecting and killing incarcerated people and Black Michiganders,” said Amanda Alexander, Detroit Justice Center founder and executive director. “It is not only humane, but necessary, to prioritize vaccinating individuals who are behind bars just as every other person the state is prioritizing.” 

In addition to the ACLU, the State Appellate Defender Office, and the Detroit Justice Center, the letter was signed by Safe & Just Michigan, Michigan Liberation, the Michigan Center for Youth Justice, the American Friends Service Committee, the Neighborhood Defender Service of Detroit, and the Michigan League for Public Policy. 

This letter and release are at: