Michigan to close Kingsley prison in cost-cutting move

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Michigan will close a 1,344-bed prison in Grand Traverse County in September, the Department of Corrections announced Monday, saying the cost-cutting move will save the state $22 million next year.

Workers at the Pugsley Correctional Facility near Kingsley were told of the pending closure Monday.

“While this is a difficult day for the staff at Pugsley, the ability to close a facility is a result of the hard work by so many across the department to help bring down our prison population,” Corrections Director Heidi Washington said in a statement.

The prison, slated to close on Sept. 24, opened in 1956. Two-hundred-thirty employees work at the facility, including 133 corrections officers, according to the department.

Layoffs are possible, according to Corrections spokesman Chris Gautz, but there are “a lot of moving parts.” The department said it will work with employees and unions in an attempt to “absorb” as many workers as possible by plugging them into other vacant jobs.

“We’re not going to know probably until the end of September — right around when the facility closes — the total number of layoffs, transfers and retirements,” Gautz said.

He said Washington, other prison officials and union representatives met with employees on Monday morning to begin discussing options.

“It’s unfortunate for corrections officers any time a prison closure is announced, because their lives — their work location, commute, schedule, and more — are affected so deeply,” the Michigan Corrections Organization, which represents 7,000 corrections officers and forensic security assistants in state prisons, said in a statement.

“Our members want to know what will happen to their careers and their families. All these details that impact officers’ lives must be sorted out, according to MDOC and MCO protocol, in the coming weeks.”

The pending closure of Pugsley prison comes in the wake of reduced revenue projections that are forcing Gov. Rick Snyder and legislative leaders to scale back spending plans for the current and upcoming fiscal year by $460 million. Budget work is expected to wrap up in June.

The Michigan Senate proposed closing two prisons, saving the state close to $47 million, but Gautz said the department will only close one facility next year as part of a budget deal that legislators are poised to consider Tuesday in a conference committee.

Pugsley houses 1,321 prisoners, according to Gautz, but the number will begin to dwindle because the department has stopped transfers into the prison. Inmates will eventually be transferred to other facilities, where some closed housing units could be re-opened to accommodate them.

Michigan’s prison population has fallen below 42,000, according to the corrections department, down from a peak of 51,554 in March 2007. The department said it has closed and consolidated more than 25 facilities and camps since 2005.

Pugsley was not picked for closure because of any single factor, according to the department, which noted that considerations included the age of the facility, the cost to operate it, the need for renovations, bed space and staff impact.

“This closure will provide the maximum savings possible to taxpayers,” Washington said.