Protesters oppose opening of North Lake facility

BALDWIN — Locals showed up despite the weather to protest the opening of the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin on Tuesday, Oct. 1, opening day of the facility.

Occupy ICE, an activist group based in the Metro Detroit area, set up in front of the facility property to show their opposition to the facility and the detention of immigrants in Michigan.

Adam Nash, an Occupy ICE member from Ann Arbor said, “We are against for profit prisons in general, and we are against detaining immigrants. Most of the inmates that will be housed here are accused of low-level crimes, most being illegally re-entering the country. It’s my personal opinion that shouldn’t be a crime. These are internment camps. This is the first one to open in Michigan, and I am completely opposed to it.”

Nash explained that the group is particularly opposed to GEO Group, Inc., the company that will operate the facility, because beyond just being a for-profit prison, they have been described as being “a cesspool of inhumane and unethical conditions.”

“I sympathize with the Lake County communities because this is a vulnerable area that has high unemployment and the people that feel like they have to take a job here are being exploited by GEO Group,” Nash said. “The resources to run a place like this should be put into creating jobs that benefit the community rather than harming people from outside the community. Everyone that is housed here for months or years is going to be deported immediately afterwards. Why bother detaining them other than for GEO Group to extract profits from that and to extract profits from the labor of those that are employed here. We hope that by our being here and demonstrating, community members can do some soul searching and consider whether there is something else they can do.”

Other protesters echoed the same sentiment saying they are opposed to for-profit prisons in general, because “no one should be able to make money off someone else’s misfortune.” They stated the economic impact of the facility for the community will be minimal, with GEO Group being the main benefactor from the contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Curt VanderWall, Republican State Senator who represents Lake County, said the prison could be an economic boon for one of the poorest counties in the state.

“I think it’s disappointing that some people aren’t seeing the total potential in this. If it wasn’t in Lake County, it would be somewhere else,” VanderWall said. “I’m excited that GEO Group chose to use this unused facility. It’ll give the boost we need in bringing business and housing to the area.”

The Lake County Democratic Party also held their own protest and despite the rain, several protesters hung around to hear guest speakers that came in support of the group.

Lake County Democratic Party chairperson Mary Minnick welcome the crowd saying the protest was organized because of the demands of the people who oppose the facility.

“GEO is a for-profit prison with a ten year contract,” she said. “This protest is due in part because I found out that lobbyists in Washington D.C. are working to extend the sentences of these types of convictions in order to make even more money off the backs of these prisoners.”

“The opening of this for-profit prison has been a source of conflict for me,” Minnick continued. “I oppose this prison, but I understand the importance of good paying jobs here in my community. This prison has opened and closed four times. Their reputation is awful. They have left us holding the bag in our community each time they up and leave without fulfilling their contract.”

Lorenzo Lopez, an activist, told the crowd the “injustice, the cruelty, the racism, and the misuse of tax dollars is wrong” and advocated for opponents of the facility to vote against lawmakers who support it.

“I understand the importance of good jobs, but not on the backs of these people,” he said. “If Congress decides to have immigration reform, they can do it, but they don’t because money is to be made. Immigration and a pathway to citizenship is not a reality because of money and profit. Private prisons are exploiting non-citizen inmates and they do not have to meet the same standards as a government run prison.”

North Lake Facility Administrator, Don Emerson said oversight of the facility includes numerous audits throughout the year. In addition, they are required to meet American Correctional Association standards 100 percent and the Federal Board of Prisons will have staff on site to do walk-throughs, talk with inmates, and conduct unannounced audits in order to assure they are in compliance with the highest standards.

According to a press release from GEO Group, Inc., inmates housed at the facility will have the opportunity to participate in meaningful programs including GED education, computer skills, building and vocational trades, and counseling services, enabling them to re-enter society upon release with credentials and tools to help them be successful.

One of the main incentives for community leaders to support the re-opening of the facility was the promise of local jobs. According to a press release from No Detention Centers in Michigan, a group opposed to locating ICE detention centers in the state, only 69 out of 260 newly hired staff members at the facility came from Lake County.

Officials with GEO Group, Inc., said in an email the majority of hires at North Lake come from the local area to include surrounding counties. Many are in various stages of transition to Lake County or commute from short distances. The Facility currently employs approximately 69 residents from Lake County in positions including security officers, programming staff, and medical staff. GEO has partnered with MichiganWorks! to hire as many residents from the county as possible. In partnership with MichiganWorks!, GEO has held approximately 10 job fairs for the Lake County community.