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New Muskegon County Jail nearly ready to open

Stephen Kloosterman
Muskegon Chronicle

Muskegon — How do you move hundreds of prisoners into a new jail?

Answer: Very carefully.

It’s no joke for Muskegon County officials, who are planning the details of a complex transition from the county’s old 370-bed facility to a modern facility with 544 beds — both side-by-side in downtown Muskegon.

Muskegon County Sheriff Dean Roesler said he hopes to start moving jail inmates to the new facility in by mid- to late-August. It’s a move that’s been discussed for at least 25 years — and some say discussions about jail overcrowding go back twice that far.

The jail wasn’t built in a day. It won’t open in 24 hours, either.

Roesler led a group of county officials and residents on a tour of the new jail July 9 — showing the inside of the jail that is nearly complete.

The new facility certainly isn’t inviting, Roesler said in an interview later — but it does seem more secure, and safer than the old jail, for inmates and jail staff.

The cells have windows designed to partially obscure inmates in the shower or bathroom. This feature in the jail was already being installed when the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in December 2014. One of the many grievances listed in the lawsuit was a lack of privacy for female inmates.

Officials who have toured the new jail are optimistic.

Muskegon County Chief Public Defender Fred Johnson oversees the legal defense of those accused of crimes but who can’t pay for attorneys. The former Navy JAG lawyer said he’s visited federal, state and military prisons, but Muskegon’s new facility is “the finest jail I’ve ever seen.”

“It’s secure, it looks like it’s going to be humane,” he said at a jail committee meeting on July 9. “The ACLU is not coming back here again. We’re not going to be sued.”

Freshman County Commissioner Jeff Lohman said he has some concerns about how the jail transition will occur, but was somewhat upbeat about the building after a tour.

“It’s good to see the deputies will still stay safe,” he said. “It’ll be good.”

The bricks and mortar are in place, but the Muskegon County Jail isn’t quite ready for move in.

At a committee meeting July 9, Granger Construction Project Manager Rob Train said the project is in the finishing stages.

“We have been approved to move forward with all of the furniture and furnishings,” he said.

Once the jail is completely finished, Roesler said, he still wants 2-3 weeks for his employees to train in the facility.

“We want to be sure we have enough time for people to become comfortable with it,” he said.

Then the jail population will be moved over in small groups — what Roesler calls “populations,” separated in the jail for security reasons over a period of about a week or week and a half.