By RACHEL IOVAN
Capital News Service
LANSING–Michigan is looking to fill up or open prisons by importing inmates from states with overcrowding problems — for a price.
“There aren’t any active or pending bids for prisoners, but several state facilities have extra beds or could re-open to meet the needs of other states,” said John Cordell, Department of Corrections public information officer.
Cordell said closed facilities, such as those in Deerfield and Riverside in Ionia County, and the Standish maximum-security prison in Arenac County could accommodate thousands of prisoners while benefiting nearby counties financially.
“We see states that need those beds,” Cordell said, “We’ll put in bids to get those prisoners.”
He said it’s much cheaper for states with overcrowded prisons like California, Georgia, Kansas and Pennsylvania to send inmates elsewhere instead of building new facilities or adding to existing ones.
Cordell said Michigan could put in competitive bids for contracts to lock up prisoners here.
Cordell said, “It doesn’t make a significant amount of money for Michigan, but it supports local communities and keeps people employed.”
Elizabeth Arnovits, the executive director of the Michigan Council for Crime and Delinquency, said, “Michigan is one of the leading states in effectively using prison space and keeping people locked up for the right amount of time,” which is why it’s a good candidate for other states to send prisoners to.
Thomas Mullaney, president of the Michigan Association of Counties, agreed that prisons help communities financially.
“Prisons can serve as a valuable economy stimulant, particularly in counties where economic growth is limited. The larger and more occupied a prison is, the more jobs it can provide to the surrounding communities,” he said.
Cordell said the re-opening of a Lake County facility near Muskegon is a success story that could be emulated by other prisons.
The department contracted with Pennsylvania last year to house prisoners and 2,000 prisoners came, Cordell said. The state receives $62 per day for each imported prisoner, and Pennsylvania covers their transportation and health care costs.
That works out to more than $45.2 million per year.
Cordell said the state has marketed the maximum-security Standish facility to the federal government and California, and an environmental survey of the prison is underway.
According to Corrections, Michigan’s prison population has decreased since 2005, when the state opted into a federal program that rehabilitates inmates and supports them once they’re paroled.
The program brings in faith-based organizations, provides group therapy for inmates and helps parolees find jobs and housing upon release.
A department study shows a 33 percent drop in recidivism rates between the start of the program in 2005 and May 2010.
Cordell said Kansas used the same re-entry program successfully, but it ended recently because of funding problems. Now Kansas is looking for beds in other states to handle the increase.
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.
By RACHEL IOVAN