Michigan Senate Votes to Shutdown Two State Prisons, Send Inmates to GEO Correctional Facility

"If this were to happen and that, obviously, is a big ‘if,’ this would be a fully-run, state-run prison."

That big ‘if’ includes a plan to close down two state prisons and potentially move the inmates and staff to Northern Michigan …

A Michigan Senate panel voted to pass the proposal yesterday.

It could save millions of taxpayer dollars and mean a big move for a lot of people.

The prison proposal would send inmates and staff from two prisons to the Baldwin North Lake Correctional Facility, or GEO Prison, in Lake County.

9&10’s Cody Boyer and photojournalist Jeff Blakeman learned more from the senator behind the plan and the department of corrections.

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This new plan could make the GEO Prison a state-run facility and, according to the sub-committee who came up with the idea, could save millions.

"It’s something that’s needed, very needed," says LeeAnn Russell, president of the Lake County Chamber of Commerce.

It’s a proposal that could bring many state inmates and hundreds of state employees to Baldwin.

"I would hope that it would mean that it’s going to bring a little commerce to the community, a little more people to come in and visit the town and purchase property," Russell says.

The idea began with State Senator John Proos, chair of the Michigan Senate Sub-Committee of Appropriation.

"We’ve seen a steady decline over the last year and a significant decline over the last six months that we believe will continue to the point where closing two facilities is a smart budget move," Proos says.

That ‘smart budget move’ means a possibility of $16 million of net annual savings but the Michigan Department of Corrections says there could also be risk.

"We have 14,000 employees across the state so we know that when the legislature puts out proposals like this, to close prisons, it obviously has an impact on the family members and the staff members and all of our prisons and what this means for them," says Chris Gautz, public information officer at the Michigan Department of Corrections. "There would be a potential loss of jobs, possibly several hundred, so obviously that is something that our staff has been watching very closely. It’s still pretty early in the process."

If the plan happens, Gautz says inmate and staff arrangements would change.

"For us to move our prisoners there, those prisoners would have to be moved out and only our staff would be working in that facility," Gautz says. "If we were to lease the space, it would be all our employees that are working there. We would not co-mingle our prison populations with another state. It presents a host of security issues and other issues for us."

The department says they would lease the prison from the GEO Group, who says they support the proposed plan and will track its process.

It’s a plan that’s possible because of a dropping inmate population in Michigan.

"That, to me, is a step in the right direction," Proos says. "The Department of Corrections should want to work their way out of existence entirely because that would mean the need for the physical infrastructure has decreased to such degree that we are shutting facilities down."

State lawmakers are pushing to make this budget decision , and many more, for a final state budget by early June.

"This is a proposal. It’s not today," Gautz says. "It’s the subcommittee’s proposal so this is one step in the legislative process. There are committee steps still to go so it doesn’t mean this is definitely going to happen but it also doesn’t mean it is definitely not going to happen. We need to take some time and work with the governor’s office, as well as the House and the Senate, to determine whether or not this indeed a path that we are going to go down."

The GEO Group’s full statement reads:

"GEO is supportive of the proposed legislative plan, which would allow the State of Michigan to maximize the use of a newer, safer, and less costly facility, while continuing to provide needed correctional bed space, services, and programs with state employees and under management from the Michigan Department of Corrections. Our company will continue to track the progress of the proposed legislative plan, and we look forward to working with all relevant parties."