By NICK MORDOWANEC
Capital News Service
LANSING – Standish, like all other Michigan cities, faces high levels of unemployment and slow economic development – plus the possibility of holding Guantanamo Bay terror suspects within its boundaries.
The federal government is considering the Standish Correctional Facility, located about 150 miles north of Detroit, as one of two potential facilities to house detainees from the Cuban detention center. The other possibility is a military penitentiary at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
President Barack Obama has frequently said he wants to close Guantanamo Bay by early 2010, bringing the suspects state-side. As of Jan. 17, about 245 detainees remained at Guantanamo Bay.
Residents in and around Standish have been vocal about the possibility of having al-Qaida, Taliban and other foreign suspects nearby. From correctional officers to state representatives, many have expressed strong resentment to the idea of housing suspected terrorists there.
“Many questions remain for how such a facility would work, as well as what legal, logistical and governing arrangements would need to be made,” said Rep. Tim Moore, R-Farwell. “The bottom line is that closing the prison would devastate the Standish community and surrounding region.”
The maximum-security men’s prison currently provides hundreds of jobs to correctional officers and other employees, but if terror suspects are moved to the facility, many of those workers would either be transferred or laid off altogether, according to corrections officers and lawmakers.
If the state closes the facility, some current employees could transfer to other prisons.
Jennifer Barnes, the legislative liaison to Sen. James Barcia, R-Bay City, said, “There are bumping rights, meaning folks who were working there longer get better opportunities.”
John Reeves, a corrections officer in the facility, said, “Anyone who has worked around three to five years would be transferred to another facility 100 miles away. The government would bring in its own military workers to survey the suspects.”
Reeves said that if such a scenario unfolds, Michigan workers, businesses and families would be put at risk – not only in terms of financial troubles, but also in safety.
“We as a community are not going to accept Guantanamo Bay suspects,” Reeves said. “Having military present, not keeping employees abreast on the present situation would hurt.”
Reeves also said, “Property values will drop, and who will want to move here once terrorists are right next door?”
John Cordell, a former corrections officer who now serves as the public information specialist for the Michigan Department of Corrections, said the facility is doing its best to assure the safety of people in the area.
“Michigan has no early release program,” Cordell said. “All prisoners must serve their sentences due to the Truth in Sentencing Act of 1998.
“We are looking at prisoners who are past their early release date and may be eligible for parole, at least 10,000 of those people. Many still need to be in prison because they pose a risk in society,” he said. “We do not want to jeopardize public safety.”
Cordell said, “Corrections is trying its hardest to minimalize potential dangers and ensure we can place as many employees as possible within our system” if Standish closes.
Moore said, “I’m looking forward to much more discussion about the Standish facility and welcome the positive attention the national media coverage is drawing to our plight, including MSNBC, Fox and other stations having me and local officials as guests for their newscasts.
“Let’s keep up the efforts to keep the prison facility open, help the families and businesses that it supports and secure the future of our community,” he said.
And Reeves said, “Our security is not being looked upon. It puts everyone at risk when everything is packed too tight. They haven’t told anyone the whole story since June.”