Snyder OKs reopening prison to out-of-state inmates

Gary Heinlein
The Detroit News

Lansing — Gov. Rick Snyder has signed legislation paving the way for a vacant private prison near Baldwin in Lake County to reopen with 1,675 inmates from Vermont and Washington state.

The bill Snyder signed Tuesday allows Florida-based Geo Group to house Level IV and V prisoners at the Baldwin facility, which has been closed since 2005. Those are the inmates rated by corrections officials as the highest-risk prisoners needing the tightest security.

Its backers say the facility will provide 150 or more jobs in financially strapped Lake County. Opponents say it will make Michigan a dumping ground for other states’ worst inmates.

Snyder made no comments about his signature on the Geo bill. Lonnie Scott, executive director of the liberal group Progress Michigan, blasted the move by arguing that private prisons “have zero accountability to the public and are hotbeds of abuse and mismanagement.”

The bill allows the prison to house all levels of prisoners. Under prior Michigan law, Geo had permission to keep inmates below the top two security levels at Baldwin.

Built in 1999 for young “punk” Michigan prisoners, it was idled in 2005 owing to higher costs than state-run prisons, a declining state prison population and other issues.

Geo has announced it has contracts to transfer up to 675 Vermont prisoners and 1,000 from Washington there this year.

Legislative debate on the prison was laced with political suspicions.

Opponents saw it as a sneaky effort by majority Republicans to reopen the contracting out of prison space to private firms as an option for Michigan inmates.

Backers argued it is a fix for a partisan, anti-business decision by the administration of ex-Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, to close the prison 10 years ago.

The state is allowed to house its prisoners privately. Michigan’s Department of Corrections looked at moving some of its inmates to the Baldwin prison under a GOP-backed bill passed in 2013, however, and found it wouldn’t produce the required 5 percent savings.