CPI suspended amid outbreak at Handlon Correctional Facility


Photo Courtesy of Calvin.edu

Students have been getting coursework from a hard drive dropped off at the correctional facility until Oct. 19.

The Handlon campus has suspended all classes, as there are 62 active cases of COVID in the prison. It is unknown how COVID-19 was introduced to the prison. At least six Handlon staff have also contracted the virus, according to an email circulated among Calvin Prison Initiative staff.

According to Todd Cioffi, the director of CPI, he learned of the suspension on Oct. 19, 2020. Only essential personnel are allowed in and out of the prison to keep the virus from spreading outside of the prison.

The email stated that prisoner movement is limited to stop spread, so students are unable to access their laptops to complete their coursework.

Cioffi knows of no Calvin students at Handlon who have contracted the virus. According to the Michigan Department of Corrections coronavirus dashboard, there have been 70 total cases at Handlon, and eight have since recovered. No inmates have died because of the coronavirus. Nearly 1,200 tests have been conducted.

Handlon Warden Mindy Braman has managed COVID outbreaks at two other prisons, and personnel are isolating active cases. Cioffi said that they are also in the process of creating a COVID housing unit that can hold 240 prisoners. Handlon can hold up to 1,295 inmates.

The Calvin students are coping well, Cioffi said. “We’re disappointed, to be sure.  But, at the same time, we understand.  We want everybody to be and stay safe,” said Cioffi.

The 85 students in Ionia have been studying remotely all semester. The students have still been organizing church services and study sessions. No professors have been allowed in the prison, so prior to the outbreak, coursework was handed off weekly on a hard drive. 

Cioffi isn’t certain when classes can resume, speculating mid to late November. The director still thinks it’s possible for the fall semester to end in December, but it might have to be pushed back to January.

The CPI office is currently looking to expand their offerings, focusing on grant writing, preparing Second Chance Pell grants and a leadership program for correctional officers. Cioffi asks students at the Knollcrest campus to pray for the Handlon counterparts.