Everything still ‘a go’

Despite rumors, GEO still plans on May opening

LAKE COUNTY - With a long-awaited re-population of the North Lake Correctional Facility just weeks away, rumors are flying, (and rumors are reproducing at a dramatic pace).

The prison will open. The prison won’t open. The prison might open.

Who knows?

In an article released by the Michigan Messenger and dated April 11, it was noted:

“Budget problems and changing priorities in California threaten to derail plans to send thousands of inmates to the GEO Group’s private prison in Baldwin.”

This article got a new wave of discussion going around the area, although local officials were surprised at the comments and points made in this and other recent news items.

“I haven’t seen the most recent article,” said Tony Gagliardo, Webber Township supervisor. “But as far as I know everything is still on track for a May opening.”

Webber Township is home to the NLCF operation, originally created as the Michigan Youth Correctional Facility - a 500 bed prison for youth prisoners.

The first corrections operation on site was shut down in 2005. In 2008, GEO began a enthusiastic expansion of the facility to 1,725 beds in expectation of winning a federal contract to house immigrant detainees but those plans were stopped last year after the federal Bureau of Prisons canceled its request for more space for criminal aliens.

“We are disappointed by the (Federal Bureau of Prisons) decision to cancel the (contract) due to a funding shortfall,” said George C. Zoley, chairman and executive officer of GEO at the time. “We will continue to market our expanded North Lake Facility to federal, state, and local detention and correctional agencies around the country.”

After having invested $60 million in the Webber Township operation, GEO Corp. remained a major contender for contracts to house more than 1,700 inmates.

Then GEO Group announced the signing of a contract with the State of California, Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for the out-of-state housing of up to 2,580 California inmates at NLCF.

As far as local officials know, everything is still “a go.”

“Last Monday, (April 4), I received an e-mail from a company (GEO) vice-president saying, ‘As of today, we will be loading California prisoners in the NLCF beginning May 1,’” reported Gagliardo.

“I don’t know how much clearer a message can be.

“As far as I know, nothing has changed over the past week. They are making preparations, and working overtime to make sure things get done.”

Gagliardo said he had heard rumors that workers and staff at the NLCF operation had been sent home.

“I talked to people on site and was told that quite to the contrary, people were working overtime in order to get everything ready to receive prisoners.”

Gagliardo reports being told there would be 250 prisoners shipped to the NLCF in May, with 250 additional prisoners being moved to the facility in June and July, and then 135 per month beginning in August until the ‘establishment’ is full.

“There are a lot of people working there already,” he said.

“Traffic in the area has increased tremendously.

“People are getting ready for the reopening of the prison May 1, and GEO is getting ready.”