Lawsuit prompts Genesee County sheriff to reinstate in-person jail visits

FLINT, MI – Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson announced plans to reintroduce in-person contact visits with inmates at the Genesee County Jail three months after being hit with a lawsuit.

Swanson called the lawsuit, which claims Genesee County banned in-person jail visits for profit, an “attention-grabber” for him and his office during a news conference on Friday, June 21 .

“What the trial did was it got my attention,” the sheriff said. “…I met with the lawyers and said we're going to do what's necessary in a trial, but while that's happening, we're going to do what's right. We are not going to wait for a judge to sign an order or motion.

“The culture that we've built…in the community – I think they would have expected me to take responsibility, recognize why this was done in the first place and make the change.”

Related: Class-action lawsuit claims Genesee County banned in-person jail visits for profit

There are currently no county jails in Michigan allowing in-person contact visits, Swanson said. Genesee County has not allowed in-person contact visits for 11 years.

The plan, called “Operation Restoration”, will initially allow children aged 12 and under to visit their families from July 6. Over the next 60 days, anyone 13 and older who wants to visit will become eligible.

There will be an application, selection and scheduling process for the one-hour tours.

This change will pose an additional responsibility for the Sheriff's Office, which will not increase staff to facilitate in-person visits.

Percy Glover, director of community engagement for the Genesee County Sheriff's Office, spoke about the importance of family support while incarcerated.

“My grandmother, my aunts, my sister – they all passed away today – they were a major influence in my life,” said Glover, who spent more than 11 years in prison.

Swanson explained that while Genesee County won't see as much revenue for video and phone calls, society will benefit from the effects this change will have on recidivism rates.

“There is unlimited economic value if people don’t go to prison,” Swanson said.

Calls will go from 21 cents per minute to families to 12 cents per minute. Video calls will drop from $10 per minute to $8, Swanson said.

Swanson called the change “the right thing to do.” He compared it to the launch of IGNITE in 2018 and hoped other Michigan sheriffs would institute similar policies.

The class action lawsuit that prompted this change was filed in March. Lawyers representing the Flint children claimed their constitutional right to visit their parents had been violated.

The lawsuit remains active and the case is currently scheduled for a summary disposition hearing in Genesee County Circuit Court Judge Celeste D. Bell's courtroom on June 25.

A similar lawsuit was also filed in St. Clair County.

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