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A Muskegon Height prison for low-security inmates will close in March because of a “significant decline in the prison population statewide,” the state said Monday.

The West Shoreline Correctional Facility is scheduled to shut March 24 after three decades, leaving 174 prison employees’ jobs in question as the Michigan Department of Corrections attempts to shift them into other job openings in the state’s prison system.

The March 24 shutdown means the current 1,272 prisoners will be transferred to other Michigan prisons. West Shoreline’s closing is expected to save the state $18.8 million, according to the Corrections Department.

In 2017, the state’s prison population dropped slightly below 40,000, down from an all-time high of 51,554 in 2007.

The facility in Muskegon Heights opened in 1987 and employs some 174 people, including 87 corrections officers. It will close its doors on March 24.

Holly Kramer, a corrections department spokeswoman, said prisons will be reassigned based on their security levels and programming needs. Prisoners hoping to be paroled are required to get their GED if they don't have it, and prisoners' needs beyond the basics are determined during the intake process, she said during a press conference. 

An inmate might need substance abuse counseling, or help with cognitive and behavioral issues, or conflict resolution skills, she said.

Heidi Washington, director of the corrections department, said closure of the West Shoreline facility "represents a step in the right direction" as the state shifts its focus to training and educating prisoners. 

Michigan has seen a 7 percent prison population decline during the past three years and fell by 1,548 prisoners in 2016, according to the department.

The Corrections Department will now begin negotiations with corrections worker union leaders and try to absorb as many employees into other prison job vacancies across the state, according to the department.

Union representatives for corrections officers don’t yet know whether the closure will lead to layoffs, said Anita Lloyd, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Corrections Organization.

“A closure is a time of uncertainty and stress for officers because their employment, work location, living arrangements, childcare, and other critical aspects of day-to-day life are made uncertain,” MCO President Tom Tylutki said in a statement. “We know it is a difficult process, but like MCO has done in the past, we will work to ensure the West Shoreline closure goes as smoothly as it possibly can.”

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