Prison bill passes State Senate

Bill to allow high level prisoners heads to governor

BALDWIN — When GEO reopens its prison facility in Lake County later this year, it will be filled with inmates from out-of-state, but it is unknown how many will arrive. This development is partially due to a bill that passed the Michigan House and Senate and is now on its way to the governor's desk.

On May 27, the Michigan Senate passed House Bill 4467 at a margin of 23 to 14. This comes two weeks after a win in the House by a margin of 57 yeas to 53 nays. The bill allows prisons such as the North Lake facility to house prisoners considered more dangerous (labeled Level Five). Although GEO said it only intends to bring in prisoners at Level Four and below, this bill passing allowed GEO more options when negotiating contracts like those with Vermont and Washington.

"This legislation simply gives North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin the ability to house inmates classified at Level Five and higher, giving Lake County and the surrounding community the opportunity to grow economically," said Rep. Bumstead, R — Newaygo, the original sponsor of the bill. "The facility was designed as a maximum security prison and is already equipped with the ability to safely house these inmates."

Soon after news broke that GEO had reached an agreement to house inmates from the Vermont Department of Corrections, it also was announced — on May 21 — the GEO Group had finalized negotiations with the Washington Department of Corrections to house a number of their prisoners at the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin. The Washington Department of Corrections then issued a contradictory statement saying although the contract is in place, they have no plans to utilize the Baldwin facility at this time.

Although Washington authorities say there are no current plans to send inmates to Lake County, GEO said it is prepared to accept up to 1,000 prisoners from Washington. This would be addition to the 320 prisoners it is importing from the Vermont Department of Corrections who are currently being incarcerated in Arizona and Kentucky.

If filled to maximum occupancy, the Washington contract could generate up to $24 million in annual revenues while the two-year contract between GEO and the Vermont Department of Corrections has an estimated worth of more than $30 million. The state of Vermont said this move will save them $2,055 per inmate per year. The economic impact within Lake County will be substantial, according to officials like County Commissioner Dan Sloan.

In the past, GEO representatives have stated they expect more than 500 prisoners will come to the North Lake facility as it reopens. It is unknown if GEO is still considering other out-of-state contracts after finalizing these two. GEO said it is planning to open the facility in July.