County to end Residential Reentry Program contract

BALDWIN -- The Lake County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution to sever the contract between the county and the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) to house Residential Reentry Program (RRP) inmates at the Lake County jail annex at their meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 9.

"That was a rough one, I hate to see this happen," Lake County Board of Commissioners chair Howard Ludholtz said.

Since 2014, the county has had to use fund balance monies to support the program due to falling revenues, increased operational costs, and a reduction in the number of inmates from the state. For the six years ending in December 2019, the RRP will have used nearly $2.5 million in fund balance.

"There were times when this made sense financially for the county," County Administrator Tobi Lake said. "It provided jobs and economic development, but last fall the numbers started to falter. Once we became aware the numbers of inmates had dropped dramatically, we knew we we're going to have to make some hard decisions."

The facility has a capacity to hold 300 inmates, but in the first week of October held just 30, and according to the MDOC, the levels are not likely to increase.

"The sheriff, the undersheriff, the chief deputy, human resources and board leaders have met regularly to discuss what we could do," Lake said. "If there was a way to keep the facility open and lose just a little each month, it would still makes sense. You would be providing jobs and covering your liabilities. If we could maintain 150 inmates, we would be short just under $100,000. That would be sustainable, but the state has made it clear those numbers aren't likely."

Operating expenses for the facility average around $315,000 per month, while the revenues generated from housing 30 inmates is just over $40,000.

"If your bringing in $40,000 and your spending $300,000, your not going to last long," Lake said. "It's pretty clear to us the numbers won't change."

The decrease in inmate numbers is due to changes in programs at the MDOC, which affect the length of incarcerations, along with lower state-wide prisoner levels, Commissioner Robert Sanders said.

"We've looked at other options for the facility including inmates from other counties, juveniles, or even federal inmates," Lake said.

"Everything has been on the table. Hopefully we can do something and come back, but for now the numbers just aren't there."

"It isn't all about numbers, everybody's going to be impacted," Sanders said. "It's a hard decision and it hasn't been taken lightly."

The Lake County Residential Reentry Program (LCRRP) began in 1991 to house parole violators in lieu of revoking their parole and returning them to incarceration. In 2008, the MDOC changed its focus from minor parole violations to residential reentry programs.

Residents housed at the facility included both male and female offenders who were required to participate in a reentry program as a condition of their parole.

The program offered substance abuse education and therapy, cognitive behavior therapy and spiritual based programs intended to enhance an individuals successful transition back into the community.

Since 2014, inmate numbers have dropped at the Lake County facility, prompting the commissioners to sever the contract with MDOC.