One Michigan town even offered to take in terrorist detainees from Guantanamo Bay after it learned that its local prison, the Standish Maximum Correctional Facility, was scheduled to close. [See: PLN, Oct. 2009, p.28]. The facility shut down on October 31, 2009.
Despite having the highest unemployment rate in the nation due to the demise of the U.S. auto industry, Michigan’s prison population has declined 7.3% since January 2007. After the closure of the eight facilities, the state’s prison capacity will drop by 6,400 beds from its end-of-2008 capacity of 50,435. The prison population is presently around 46,400.
“Our top priority is public safety, and that is at the core of every decision we make in operating our state correctional facilities,” said Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) Director Patricia Caruso. “But just as we are committed to the public’s safety, we are also committed to spending their tax dollars wisely and in ways that make sense.”
Those opposed to the prison closures said they were “shocked,” and touted the usual scare tactics. “This is a dollar-driven corrections policy, not good public policy. Just opening the gates and letting out 4,000 prisoners – that image is something. People should lock their doors,” said Mel Grieshaber, executive director of the Michigan Corrections Organization, the union that represents MDOC prison guards.
In fact, opposition to closing the prisons itself seems to be dollar-driven. “I think the prison brings in something like $14 million a year to the economies of all five counties around here, so closing it will have a big impact on the area,” noted David Munson, who owns the Summer Trail Inn about two miles east of the Standish facility. Most of the money that flows from prisons to the local community is in the form of payroll and utility payments.
In addition to Standish, the other facilities slated for closure included the Muskegon Correctional Facility, the Hiawatha Correctional Facility and prison camps Ottawa, Cusino, Kitwen, Lehman and Whitelake. All but the Muskegon prison have since been shut down. The facility closures have resulted in the loss of around 200 jobs; the rest of the MDOC employees at affected prisons were shifted elsewhere.
Two of the eight facilities may remain in service, but not for the MDOC. Pennsylvania is seeking temporary out-of-state bed space for 1,500 prisoners, and is sending prison officials to examine the Standish and Muskegon facilities on November 19, 2009.
What happens to prisons after they close is also a matter of concern in light of what occurred at Camp Brighton, which shut down in 2007. The buildings at Brighton were stripped of all copper pipe and metal fixtures, and vandals shattered the windows that weren’t broken by thieves.
Notwithstanding that potential problem, the state’s prison closures are deemed not only necessary but a benefit of a 5-year-old initiative to reduce recidivism that has led to the dramatic drop in the MDOC’s prison population.
Michigan plans to spend $60 million from the savings from the prison closures toward increased parole supervision. The state currently has over 21,000 parolees, the highest ever; however, parolees are committing fewer violations than when there were 15,000 on parole. Statistics like that, and a drop in crime rates since a peak in the 1990s, are resulting in government officials reexamining their usual “lock-em-up” mentality in these tough economic times.
Twenty-five states have cut spending on corrections in fiscal year 2009. “It’s a trend we’ll be seeing more and more of in coming months given the dire revenue situation states are in,” said Sujit M. CanagaRetna, an analyst with the Council of State Governments. For more on prison closures nationwide, see PLN’s April 2009 cover story.
Sources: Associated Press, Detroit News, CNN Money, Iron County Reporter, Livingston Community News, Wall Street Journal, www.mlive.com, Detroit Free Press, www.upnorthlive.com
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