Michigan Senate OKs high security prisoners at facility

By Alisha Green
Associated Press

LANSING (AP) - Higher security-level prisoners could be brought in from other states to a currently closed private facility in Michigan's northern Lower Peninsula, possibly creating hundreds of jobs under a bill approved Wednesday by the Senate.

The Republican-led chamber approved the bill 23-14. It would allow prisoners of any security level at the former Michigan Youth Correctional Facility, located north of Baldwin in Lake County's Webber Township. The facility, which has been closed since 2011, is limited under state law to housing prisoners with a security level of four or below; a security level of six is the most restrictive.

Bill supporters say lifting the cap on the security level of inmates would allow Vermont to send more than 300 of its inmates to the facility, creating some 150 jobs. Washington state also could sign a contract to send prisoners, which bill sponsor Rep. Jon Bumstead, a Republican from Newaygo, said could boost the job total to more than 300.

Legislators sharply debated whether allowing maximum-security prisoners at the private facility, owned by GEO Group, would be in the best interest of the state. Geo Group provides prison, community re-entry and electronic monitoring services worldwide.

Democrats proposed five amendments that all failed. One that fell a vote short, from Warren Democratic Sen. Steve Bieda, would have added language to the bill stating that Michigan prisoners are not to be housed at the facility. Supporters of the amendment, including Republican Sen. Tom Casperson from Escanaba, said it was in line with the intent of the bill, which is to bring prisoners from other states, not to shift Michigan inmates to the private facility.

In his statement on the floor before voting against final passage of the bill, Bieda said he is against treating people like commodities who can be imported to the state to create jobs.

"Does this reflect our values, to bring in prisoners from other states?" he said.

Republican Sen. Goeff Hansen from Hart countered that the people in Lake County are in support of the bill because of the jobs it will bring and the security of the facility.

The bill now goes to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder for his consideration.

Published: Fri, May 29, 2015