Governor signs prison bill

LANSING — On June 9, Governor Rick Snyder signed into law House Bill 4467, which will allow Michigan prisons to house higher level inmates.

This is especially relevant for the GEO North Lake Correctional Facility north of Baldwin, which is slated to reopen this summer. GEO will be bringing in out-of-state prisoners from the Vermont Department of Corrections, and potentially inmates from the Washington Department of Corrections as well.

The bill was proposed by Rep. Jon Bumstead R — Newaygo whose district includes the Baldwin area.

"I know this measure will lead the Lake County community in the right direction," remarked Bumstead. "While Michigan has performed well recently, we can’t stop improving. I worked hard to show my colleagues that this legislation will create hundreds of jobs for an area that desperately needs our assistance and I am looking forward to seeing the positive effects the North Lake Correctional Facility will have in the community."

The bill will allow prisons like the North Lake facility to house prisoners considered more dangerous, known as "level five" prisoners. GEO has stated it has no current plans to house prisoners of that type in Lake County, and it will only contain prisoners level four and below.

Last month, Lake County Sheriff Robert Hilts spoke to both the Michigan House and Senate to assure them of the security of the facility and his confidence in GEO.

"The facility is very secure and we're confident in its security and GEO's ability to maintain the community's safety," said Hilts. "We're looking forward to them being partners in this community once again."

The last time the prison was open it was shut down again only a few short weeks later due to contract issues. This memory makes several Lake County residents wary about the reopening. Bumstead's office said the passing of House Bill 4467 vastly streamlined GEO's negotiating process making it less likely for these problems to resurface.

Lake County leaders say the economic impact of the reopening could be a huge step for the financially ailing community.

"With the signing of this legislation by the governor, it should give GEO the freedom it needs to fill the facility during the next two years," said county commissioner Dan Sloan. "We're looking at 118 jobs right now and potentially up to 400 jobs two or three years down the road."

GEO has said it is planning to begin bringing transporting prisoners to the North Lake facility in July.