Mich. will close prison as part of budget agreement

The closure will be the second in as many years as the state's prison population continues to decline


By David Eggert
Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. — Michigan will close one of its 30 prisons to save $19 million in the next budget under a deal struck by lawmakers on Tuesday.

The closure, due at some point in the fiscal year that starts in October, will be the second in as many years as the state's prison population continues to decline. The West Shoreline Correctional Facility in Muskegon Heights was closed in March.

Department of Corrections spokesman Chris Gautz said agency leaders do not yet have a facility in mind for the next closure, nor is there a timeline for when it will occur or information on how many employees may be laid off. The closure will be "good for taxpayers," he said, but also "creates a lot of anxiety for our staff and for our officers and for all the people who work in our facilities."

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder had not proposed a prison closure in his budget, but Gautz said the department now agrees the population is projected to fall enough to safely close a facility. A recent consensus report estimated the number of inmates at 38,815 for the 2018-19 budget and 932 empty beds.

The population fell below 40,000 in 2017, the lowest point in more than 20 years.

The prison closure is included in a $2 billion corrections budget that proposes spending $15 million, or 0.8 percent, more than this year. The spending bill was approved 6-0 by a GOP-led House-Senate conference committee and is expected to win final legislative approval as part of the broader budget next week.

Legislators agreed to Snyder's request for $13.2 million to help hire 350 state employees to help feed prisoners. He had previously announced that the state's contract with Florida-based Trinity Food Services would expire at the end of July and not be extended, largely due to problems with inadequate staffing levels. Outsourcing of the food service first began more than four years ago with a different company.

The legislation also includes $9.2 million to train more than 350 new corrections officers. Fifty custody staff are retiring each month. There is $2.4 million to expand education and skills training for higher-security inmates with tablet computers, $2 million to recruit and retain prison health care workers and $2 million to improve on-the-job training for inmates working in prison kitchens. The budget requires that the agency work with the Michigan Restaurant Association on job placements for people on parole and probation.

The committee rejected a Senate proposal to privatize 300-plus nursing jobs.

The chairman, Republican Rep. Dave Pagel of Berrien Springs, credited the department's emphasis on "offender success" for improved recidivism rates and lower prisoner counts.

"We're heading in the right direction in the criminal justice system," he said.

Associated Press
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