Protest Conditions at Women’s Huron Valley

Conditions at Michigan’s only prison for women have been problematic for years, before COVID. Overcrowding, lack of access to mental health and adequate medical services, lack of programming, major staffing shortages which lead to fatigue and outright abuse, antiquated buildings, sewage & heating and cooling systems, and more have plagued Women’s Huron Valley.

COVID-19 has exacerbated existing problems at the Valley. Women are forced to live in overcrowded conditions that lead to excessive exposure to COVID-19. The MDOC has provided thin cotton masks that are ill fitting throughout the pandemic. Further staff who work in crowded areas like chow halls and program buildings have not been mandated to be vaccinated or to be tested daily, every two days, or even weekly. This has led to an immense surge. The latest outbreak at the Valley came in through civilian chow hall staff.

Throughout the last two years, the women have had little access to big yard or the field house–they must choose one option just one time a week (except for people who have cross cohort jobs–they get big yard twice). There are 23 seats in a dayroom and there are between 155 and 180 women in each unit (on the westside). Women on the west side are double bunked in 10 by 10 spaces with a toilet and sink in the room and one desk and one chair. There is no room for movement. These cells were built as single cells. They should not be double bunked during non-pandemic times, let alone in pandemic times.   The MDOC and the governor’s office will continue to blame staffing shortages and the lack of control of who they are forced to cage as the main problems contributing to this current crisis.

We argue that the governor could do more to relieve the overcrowded conditions at the Valley. She could listen to social science, public health, and criminology research–the majority of women in prison have been subjected to serious traumas in their histories and, after serving long periods of time, pose NO risk to the community. In all actuality, these women could serve as mentors to struggling communities and young people. Their mitigating circumstances are profoundly unique and immense, and the governor should call in experts, outside of the MDOC talking heads, to explore ways forward to address the chronically inhumane conditions and gender specific problems & realities of WHV. She should be looking towards reducing the women’s prison population by half and eventually relying on alternatives to imprisonment for the harms caused by women in our communities.   A group of outraged and invested community members, loved ones, and formerly incarcerated people call on you to join us in the work to raise awareness on the horrific conditions at the Valley and to work to get our governor and the institutions beholden to her authority, MDOC and MDHHS, to comprehensively address the problems that we are raising through more avenues to freedom and return to safe families and communities of love and care.
Join us this Sunday, January 16th at Women’s Huron Valley (3210 Bemis Rd., Ypsilanti, MI 48197) at 12pm to protest conditions. Dress in layers, and bundle up – we will be outside!
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