GEO Group hosts job fair in anticipation of reopening prison in the near future

By Josh Roesner

Pioneer News Network

Officials with the GEO Group were upbeat about the possibility of reopening the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin during a job fair held at the prison Wednesday afternoon.

Julie Owens, regional human resources director for GEO, said while the company has not yet signed any contracts to house inmates at the facility, they are “actively looking to reopen" and are currently pursuing a procurement of 900 prisoners from the Michigan Department of Corrections.

Up until July, MDOC sought competitive bids for operations and service to house already incarcerated Michigan prisoners. GEO and another group submitted bids to the state, said Rep. Jon Bumstead, R-Newaygo.

If GEO is awarded the contract, it also will be required to interview and consider former MDOC employees to work at the prison and give consideration to the hiring of unemployed National Guard or reserve officers and military personnel who are returning to the state following active deployment.

If MDOC doesn’t enter a contract for the Baldwin facility, GEO is still permitted to open it to inmates from other states.

“Bids are getting looked at right now at the state level,” Bumstead said. “Once we get back into session full-time — which is this week — I could start looking into seeing where that is at.”

Recently, Bumstead, GEO representatives and other state and local elected

officials met in Baldwin to discuss where GEO is at in the bid process. The Boca Raton, Fla.-based company likely did so to reassure local elected officials it still was actively trying to reopen the facility, Bumstead said. The job fair is another reassurance, he added.

“I think it’s good news,” Bumstead said. “No. 1, they probably want to see what is out there — as far as a workforce anyway — that’s qualified for the jobs before they have to look elsewhere out of the area for those folks. It’s probably good to do that on their part also.”

Gauging local interest and skills sets are important in the company’s planning before it can reopen the facility, Owens said.

“We need to understand what level of interest and talent is available in the community,” she said.

North Lake has not housed inmates since October 2011, when the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation — which had signed a contract with GEO to house prisoners at North Lake in November 2010 — stopped sending prisoners after the California legislature chose not to extend a law that allowed the CDCR to house California’s prisoners in other states.

Since that time, when 145 employees were laid off, the 1,750-bed facility has been cared for by a skeleton staff, Owens said.

“(North Lake) is move-in ready,” she said. “We have had staff here all along. It’s never been mothballed.”

Wednesday’s event served as an open house for potential applicants. Attendees had the opportunity to see the facility and speak with GEO employees who work in each of the areas the company would need workers should North Lake reopen. Attendees wishing to apply for positions were directed to GEO’s website.

If the facility was at full capacity, GEO would need between 350 and 400 full-time employees. While related work experience is a plus, all new hires are trained by GEO based on the requirements of the group GEO is contracted with to house inmates, Owens said.

GEO coordinated with Michigan Works! West Central to host the event. Michelle Rasmussen, business services director at Michigan Works! West Central, said turnout for the event was “steady.”

“I’m pleased,” Rasmussen said. “We had people coming in before noon, and we had to tell them to leave and come back (because the event started at 1 p.m.).”

Workers from Manistee, Mason, Newaygo, Mecosta, Osceola and Lake counties were all expected to attend, she added.

Among the potential applicants in attendance were Wendy Hawkins and Rebecca Edenburn, both of Manistee County. Hawkins and Edenburn said they are interested in working as nurses at the facility, and are currently working on an occasional basis as nurses.

“I’ve been working in long-term care,” Hawkins said. “It’d be a nice change (to work at North Lake).”

Edenburn added the compensation GEO offers makes the position appealing.

“They have good benefits,” she said. “That’s a plus, too.”

For more information about the positions or to apply, visit