Detroit — As inmates seek class certification in a federal lawsuit contesting conditions in the Oakland County Jail during the coronavirus outbreak, 171 of them refused tests for COVID-19 this week, corrections officials testified Thursday in U.S. District Court.
Meanwhile, as county authorities continue their attempts to reduce the population of the jail and to respond to Judge Linda Parker’s restraining order providing remedies, Corrections Commander Curtis Childs changed his testimony about whether the county can provide for social distancing in the jail.
On Wednesday, he said it cannot.
On Thursday, after touring the housing areas of the jail in the morning, Childs said it can.
Parker ended the hearing Thursday afternoon after about 12 hours of public testimony and legal arguments this week. She asked the county to submit additional information by Wednesday.
The inmates filed a class-action suit against the county last month, complaining that they are not provided adequate protection from the coronavirus.
Among the measures imposed by Parker is testing of inmates.
The unavailability of test kits hampered corrections officials early. When 1,000 kits were received from the county, the process ramped up.
From May 1 until Wednesday, 356 inmates were tested, with one positive result, according to jail officials.
But 171 refused to participate, a jail official testified.
As of Thursday morning, corrections officials said, there were about 600 inmates in the jail.
“I don’t know why the inmates refused the test,” testified Vicki Warren, the privately contracted health administrator at the jail. “Inmates refuse services all the time. I don’t think that’s odd.”
Childs had testified that county corrections official could not provide social distancing in line with recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control to fight COVID-19. On Thursday, Childs said after touring the facility, he believed the county could now comply.
Some of the 10-prisoner cells, where two inmates have had to sleep on the floor on a blanket, last month held eight or nine inmates but now have considerably fewer, Childs said.
“This a holding tank, so you’ve got four people in there,” said Cary McGehee, a lawyer for the inmates, said to Childs. “I want to know how you’re telling me that you’ve got four people in this holding tank 23 to 24 hours a day, and they are social distancing six feet apart?”
“I do think it’s possible, yes,” Childs said.
“How?” McGehee asked, in an incredulous tone.
Childs then described actions inmates could take, including remaining near the corners of the cells and turning their heads.
He testified that when he did his walk-through Thursday before the hearing, the 10-prisoner holding cells had as many as three inmates.
But Jamaal Cameron, an inmate called as a rebuttal witness, testified that Childs never passed through an area where two 10-man cells were holding four or five inmates.
After the testimony, lawyers argued over the scope of federal courts’ jurisdiction in the case, especially when actions in state courts may be alleviating concerns raised in a federal court complaint. Parker also asked a series of question about how further prisoner releases would be determined, if she orders them.
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