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MDOC decision delays early release for incarcerated

MDOC spokesperson Chris Gautz says the classes are being paused because of COVID for safety of staff and those who are incarcerated.

COLDWATER, Mich — As COVID numbers across Michigan continue to rise, the Michigan Department of Corrections is cancelling rehabilitation classes in prisons where there's an outbreak.

This decision is having a negative impact on those who are up for an early release but must complete rehabilitation classes first. Tony Roy III, of the Flint-area, says he and many others share a similar story.

Roy III is currently in prison, housed at the Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater. He's eligible for early release, contingent upon completing a substance abuse program at the prison. But six months later, he still hasn't been able to take the class.

"The substance abuse class has continuously been stopped due to COVID," Roy III. said. "I want help. I understand I have a substance abuse problem. So, I want help. I want to go home a productive citizen. I want to come home and get a job. and change my life."

MDOC spokesperson Chris Gautz says the classes are being paused because of COVID for safety of staff and those who are incarcerated.

"Out of safety for the prisoners and the staff, we've had to pause programming at several different intervals when cases got too out of hand at several of our facilities," Gautz said.

Gautz says someone may have an early release date, but that doesn't necessarily mean they'll get out at that time.

"Sometimes people (get) confused," said Gautz. "When they say they're supposed to get out. Their early released date which is listed on OTIS, and that's the earliest someone can get released. That's not a guarantee or a right that someone will be released at their early release date."

Gautz says it is up to the parole board to make that decision. However, Flint activist Arthur Woodson says the DOC is playing games with people lives.

"Now you want to move the goal post," said Woodson. "And that's just like in a racist and injustice system that's what they do. These people have lived a productive and (rehabilative) life while they have been incarcerated."

Woodson says the DOC should do the right thing and release people like Tony and allow them to take the course someplace else like a substance abuse facility.

As for Roy III., it's unclear what will happen next.

"I have struggled with drug addiction my whole life.  And I'm trying to get help with that but now no help is available. I'm being told, 'Sit there until COVID clears up,'" said Roy III.

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