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Releasees from Rural Michigan Jail Frighten Neighbors on Long Walk Home

The remoteness of Michigan’s Ottawa County Jail is leaving released prisoners who have no transportation with no choice but to walk home. Consequently, local residents who live on the county roads that the releasees must travel are scared.

Several years ago, the jail was moved from Grand Haven to West Olive. In Grand Haven there were stores and gas stations. West Olive, however, is 14 miles from Grand Haven and 16 miles from Holland. It is a six-mile walk from the jail’s current location to the nearest business, a gas station.

Around 8,000 prisoners are released from the jail annually. They leave without money, as they are issued a check for the cash they had when they entered the facility. Those without a ride are forced to walk.

“Way in the middle of nowhere when they were bringing me out here, I was like, ‘Wow, you know, where are we going, you know,’” said Frank Miller as he was released from the jail. “I’m kind of stranded. It’s unfortunate. I mean, what is a guy supposed to do? You know? It almost makes guys want to steal bicycles or bother people, or hitch hike.”

Becky Todd, who lives along the road that releasees must travel, believes it was a released jail prisoner who stole a bike off her porch. “Sometimes they just come out and they say, ‘Where am I? I have no idea where I’m at,’” she said. “My fear is that they will come into my home and either attack me or one of my grandchildren, or abuse us. I just don’t feel safe with them walking around the area free.”

Other neighbors say releasees from the jail regularly knock on their doors, some aggressively. “They’ll just march right up to the door and start making demands. They want something to drink, they want a cigarette or whatever,” said local resident Bob Nelson. “Usually if they ain’t too scruffy, myself or dad will give ‘em a ride.”

Other neighbors have posted signs warning against trespassing or soliciting. Jail officials require releasees to sign a document promising to not bother the neighbors, but it has no legal effect. “Once they’re released from jail, I have no legal ability to hold them in the jail any longer,” said jail administrator Lt. Steve Baar. “If they don’t have transportation from the facility, if they knock on somebody’s door, I can’t prevent that.”

Jail officials say they give releasees a free call when they leave and will help arrange rides with volunteers. Miller said he was provided no such offer. “I tried to talk to the chaplain at the jail and he says it’s not his responsibility to get me a ride,” Miller stated.

In an attempt to resolve the problem of jail releasees facing a long walk home, the county retained Solid Design Simple Solutions (SDSS), a “unique organization that takes you through process improvement and information flow improvement.” SDSS states it “improve[s] business processes and information flow to increase efficiencies.”

In terms of the Ottawa County Jail, SDSS said “the taxpayers and citizens of Ottawa County can anticipate changes which will save time, money, and resources in addition to decreasing the likelihood of the released individual to create nuisance in the local community.”

The only concrete changes, though, according to a December 13, 2010 article posted on SDSS’s website, are to “better communicate the inmate transportation options upon their release” and to “increase efficiencies in all the areas associated with inmate management.”

Future changes include a new system that “involves partnerships with local taxi cab companies, a streamlined process including clearly outlined options for transport, and a near elimination of the temptation to begin walking from the jail.” But no actual transportation.

Sources: Chicago Tribune,

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