LANSING, MI – The state Department of Corrections announced today that it will close three prisons and five prison camps by the end of the year. It's part of Governor Granholm's drive to find big savings by closing prisons and reducing the number of inmates. Administration officials say the closings will save taxpayers $120,000,000 without compromising public safety.
AUDIO: Governor Granholm's been closing prisons for two years in an effort to rein in one of the biggest expenses in the state budget. Administration officials say the state has been successful in bringing down the number of people behind bars. Right now, Michigan incarcerates roughly 47,500 inmates, and Granholm wants that brought down by about 35 hundred.
John Cordell is with the state Department of Corrections.
"As we have a declining prison population," Cordell says, "it's important for us to close prisons, so that we can reduce our expenditure as an agency and, hopefully, some of that money can be used for other needed programs here in the state of Michigan."
Cordell says the prisons were chosen because they are older, or in need of major repairs. Prisons close to other corrections facilities were chosen so employees with seniority could jump into other jobs. When it all shakes out, Cordell says, about 1,000 positions will disappear.
Cordell says some of the money saved will be used to hire more parole officers, and to buy G-P-S devices and electronic tethers to help keep track of released prisoners. He says there will be efforts to rehabilitate and train inmates for life outside prison walls, and to help them after release are working.
"We need to ensure that as an agency, and as community partners, and as good citizens of Michigan, that those people we parole are succeeding", says Cordell.
"We know that a certain percentage of these people will go out, they will commit crimes again, and they will wind up back in prison. There will be people hurt."
State Senator Alan Cropsey is a Republican with responsibility over the corrections budget in the Legislature. He also has prisons in his district. Cropsey says closing prisons, laying off guards, and releasing inmates is a mistake. He says the governor instead should focus on bringing down the cost of incarcerating each inmate, which is higher in Michigan than much of the rest of the Midwest.
"The governor", Cropsey says, "has made the decision that she's going to close prisons, instead of looking to bringing down the cost per prisoner, of making the prisons more efficient and more effective, she's going to close prisons."
The prisons to be closed by the end of November are Standish facility in northeast Michigan, the Hiawatha facility near Kincheloe in the Upper Peninsula, and the Muskegon facility in western Michigan.
The state will also close three prison camps in Painedale, Shingleton, and Iron River in the U-P, as well as camps in Grayling and in Oakland County. The Standish facility is maximum security, and its 568 inmates will be transferred. Some will be sent to other maximum security facilities, others will be reclassified as slightly lower risks. And that scares Mel Grieshaber of the Michigan Corrections Organization.
"These are a whole variety of toothbrushes that they have, as you notice, have been sharpened down in some cases", Grieshaber says, "in other cases they've molded a razor blade into the toothbrush."
The director of the union that represents corrections officers is pointing to a display of inmate-fashioned weapons that have been seized over the years.
"Here's a comb that's been sharpened into a point."
He says more high security prisoners in closer proximity to each other presents a bigger risk to other inmates and to the fewer people left to guard them.
"In this ambitious endeavor here by the state, they're letting out the lower, so-called lower-security prisoners, Grieshaber adds. "That means everybody left is bad, the worst of the worst in the prisons."
Cropsey says he's still not seeing corrections costs going down. Cropsey says he can't stop the governor from closing prisons, but he has a lot of questions. And he intends to ask them in a corrections budget hearing he's convening in the coming week.