Michigan prison director stepping down

Gary Heinlein
The Detroit News

Lansing — Dan Heyns will step down June 30 after four years as Michigan's corrections director and becomes an adviser in the office of Gov. Rick Snyder, the administration said Friday.

Heyns will be replaced by Heidi Washington of East Lansing, who is warden at the Charles Egeler Reception and Guidance Center in Jackson. The center is where all male inmates enter the prison system after their sentencing for processing and assignment to prisons throughout the state.

Washington, who started her career working as a legislative adviser, said Friday that rising to corrections director is "an incredible, overwhelming and positive feeling." She becomes the new director July 1.

"I'm so proud because I have so much passion for this work," Washington said. "We're going through a transition, and I'll continue to work with Director Heyns and look at programs and policies that make sense for the department."

The announcement comes as Snyder prepares to outline his prison reform proposals in a major policy speech Monday afternoon in Detroit. Washington said she is waiting to hear what the governor proposes.

She indicated she expects to continue current programs and policies while reviewing prison operations from her new vantage point as director. Among those is an ongoing effort to hire 1,000 replacements this year for a large number of corrections officers reaching retirement age.

While under pressure from lawmakers to hold down spending, the department is challenged to keep prisons fully staffed, curtail budget-busting overtime pay and cover retirees' benefits.

Dan Heyns, director of Michigan Department of Corrections, will step down at the end of June.

Corrections spokesman Chris Gautz said Heyns is moving to a paid position in Snyder's office where he will oversee corrections reform. Details remain to be worked out.

"We've still got seven weeks in his current position, so his title, pay and many of his duties will stay the same until then," said Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel. "After that point, the finer details and specifics will be determined."

Snyder's announcement said as the warden at Egeler, Washington "has demonstrated firm management and a commitment to understanding why offenders are there, and where they are headed in the future.

"Changing the outcomes of our corrections system remains a challenge but continues to be priority of mine, and I'm confident that Heidi will be a strong leader on these reforms and see them through," he said.

Heyns will work with the governor's Council on Law Enforcement and Reinvention, according to the announcement. The council includes police, prosecutors, prison officials, judges and Snyder administration cost analysts.

The council has focused especially on Wayne, Oakland, Genesee and Saginaw counties, which account for the most crime in Michigan.

Snyder appointed Heyns corrections director in June 2011, five months after he began his first term as governor. The former Jackson County sheriff has overseen revisions in the sprawling corrections department during a transitional period when lawmakers were pushing for tighter control of its annual budget exceeding $2 billion.

Among the changes forged under his leadership was a three-year contract with national service industry giant Aramark to handle prison food preparation. The December 2013 changeover resulted in layoffs of state prison food service employees and didn't go smoothly.

For much of last year, the department dealt with problems such as food shortages and menu changes that caused inmate unrest in some prisons, as well as numerous incidents in which Aramark workers had to be dismissed for what was described as over-familiarity with inmates.

Those issues appear to be smoothing out this year. The number of incidents reported by corrections officer unions have been declining.

Heyns also has pushed for changes in sentencing and parole policies to moderate prison costs by reducing the number of offenders sent to state prisons.

Earlier this year, he suggested to The Detroit News and new Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein that judges list for the department their expectations for the sentences they give new inmates. He said it would help guide corrections policies.

Snyder said Heyns "took on an incredible burden and really began the overall transformation of our corrections system. Because of his leadership, our recidivism rate is lower, and we have identified the factors we need to address to ensure parolees have the tools they need to reintegrate into society."

Washington formerly was warden of the Robert Scott Correctional Facility, corrections department legislative liaison and an adviser to lawmakers in both chambers. She also is the department liaison to the Michigan Women's Commission.

She holds a law degree from Cooley Law School, a bachelor's degree from Michigan State University and an associate's degree from Lansing Community College.