Re-opening the doors?

Senate bill may help reactivate GEO prison

BALDWIN – Two bills have passed the state Senate that may lead to the re-opening of the privately owned North Lake Correctional Facility.

Senate bill 877 would “allow, but not require, the Department of Corrections to contract out the incarceration of prisoners to a private prison in a five-year contract, if doing so would save at least 10 percent.”

Its companion piece of legislation, SB 878, states effectively the same thing but specifically would “allow the state to enter a contract to house adult prisoners at the former Michigan youth correctional facility in Baldwin.”

With the exception of a four-month period in 2011, the North Lake Correctional Facility, located at 1805 West 32nd St., has been without inmates since 2005 when then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm revoked the prison’s funding amid allegations of abuse though at the time, the Granholm administration claimed the reasons were purely budgetary.

The sponsor of both bills, state Sen. John Proos, (R-St. Joseph), says the bills are not a “push towards privatization” but to save taxpayer money while maintaining public safety.

“Our goal is to decrease the per-prisoner-per-day cost,” he said.

Michigan’s per-prisoner-per-day cost is $94 while the regional average for the Midwest is $75, according to Proos.

The prison was known as the Michigan Youth Correctional Facility from 1999 through 2005 and by law is not allowed to house adult inmates.

“(These bills) allow all bidders to participate in the bidding process,” Proos said. “With (SB 878), it would be impossible for us to have the Baldwin prison involved in the bidding process.”

Both bills passed the Senate by razor thin margins, 20-18 for SB 877 and 21-17 for SB 878. All 12 Senate Democrats voted against both bills while six Republicans voted against SB 877 and five Republicans voted against SB 878.

With the Michigan Department of Corrections budget currently at about $2 billion, Proos thinks there are better ways to spend those tax-payer dollars.

“What I hope is my colleagues in the House and the Senate realize, both Republicans and Democrats, is that there are other places we can spend that money,” he said. “Every dollar saved could be used someplace else.”

According Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan, Michigan is not in a state that has a need for acquiring more prison beds.

“Our prison population on a whole has been dropping since 2007. We’ve decreased by about 8,500 prisoners and have closed a number of facilities.”

Due to the shrinking prison population and staffing changes that will save save the state money, Marlan says now is not the time to start shopping for cheaper alternatives.

Proos said the bills would allow the MDOC to bid on the contracts offered, if they can match the 10 percent savings that the bills require.

After its passage in the Senate, both bills were referred to the House Appropriations Committee.