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Detroit detention center saving taxpayers millions

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Detroit — A partnership created to run the city's central lockup is saving taxpayers millions nearly 18 months after it launched, officials say.

The Detroit Detention Center saves Wayne County and the city as much as $20 million a year, primarily on health care costs for detainees, according to Department of Corrections officials.

"The big thing is ... the center enables officers to spend more time on the street," said Willis Chapman, the center's assistant deputy warden. "You can't put a dollar value on that."

Earlier this week, Michigan Department of Corrections officials gave The Detroit News a tour of the facility, located on the site of the former Mound Correctional Facility on Mound Road at E. Davison.

The state closed the prison three years ago due to budget cuts. But it was reopened in August 2013 under a five-year agreement between the city and the state.

Under the deal, the Michigan Department of Corrections operates the Detroit Detention Center to serve as a central lockup for local law enforcement. In exchange, the city pays the state $8.1 million a year to run the center.

It also enabled the city to close five lockups run by Detroit police.

Terry Tellez, the Detroit Detention Center's deputy warden, said the facility has capacity to house 200 detainees, 150 men and 50 women. It averages about 48 men and nine women daily, he said.

Most detainees average a 34.6 hour stay at the facility until they're arraigned or released, according to Tellez. A computer system tracks how long detainees have been at the center.

Security and safety are top priorities at the facility, but so is quickly processing detainees so police officers can return to either patrols or investigations.

The average time it takes for a police officer to turn over a detainee to the center is about 16 minutes, said Detroit Police Deputy Chief David LeValley.

"It's pretty quick," said LeValley, who is in charge of the police department's support services bureau, which includes the center.

"Our reaction after 18 months is, overall, the agreement (and the center are) working well. We arrest somewhere between 1,800 and 2,000 people a month and take them to center. It's easier to manage that at one location instead of a lot of different jails."

Officials with the corrections department estimate the center is saving money for the county and the city.

At the end of the center's first year operation, the corrections department was able to run it under budget by $1.2 million, Tellez said. Gov. Rick Snyder returned that money to the city shortly after it exited bankruptcy.

Before the Detroit Detention Center, Detroit police officers took an average of 550 detainees to a hospital for treatment every month.

The Detroit Police Department charged about $4,000 for each trip. The total cost was about $2.2 million a month or $26.4 million a year.

Depending on the nature of the crimes detainees were accused of committing, the bill was sent to either the county or the city. The county picked up the tab for detainees facing felonies and the city paid for misdemeanor suspects.

By comparison, the center averages about 96 detainee trips to the hospital per month, which costs the county and city only $384,000 a month or $4.6 million a year.

Corrections officials said the key to the decline in detainees' trips to the hospital has been having a doctor and full-time nurses at the center to treat detainees. Tellez said the center and Detroit police are looking at ways to reduce the number of hospital trips further.

Dennis Niemiec, a spokesman for Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, said the center has also saved on transportation costs.

"Now we can pick up inmates at one site instead of three or four as was the case previously," he said in an email.

"The DDC also is located near the jail in Hamtramck, which again saves on gas and time."

The savings come at a time when the county and the city are working to cut costs and shore up their finances but maintain public safety.

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