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Private prison company to house non-U.S. citizens at Michigan facility

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

A private prison company in Northern Michigan could begin housing non-U.S. citizens convicted of federal crimes as early as next week as part of a 10-year contract with the federal government. 

The GEO Group Inc. won the contract to house up to 1,800 adult inmates at its North Lake Correction Facility in Baldwin from the Federal Bureau of Prisons in May. 

Protesters march and chant outside a Prudential financial services branch office building on West Big Beaver, in Troy, August 13, 2019. The protesters called on Prudential to divest from GEO Group Inc., a major private prison who will begin housing non-U.S. citizens convicted of crimes in Baldwin, Michigan next week.

Village of Baldwin President Jim Truxton said the facility plans to begin admitting inmates on Tuesday, but GEO Group would only confirm the site would be “ready to receive inmates as soon as Tuesday."

The inmates housed in Baldwin through the federal Criminal Alien Requirement Program usually have 90 months or less to serve on sentences that typically involve nonviolent drug offenses or re-entry to the country after deportation. 

All face deportation after completing their sentences in Baldwin. 

The prison has hired 234 staff members, including 34 medical staff, and is in the process of hiring more. Many of the hires are from the county or surrounding area and will make between $35,000 and $76,000, according to GEO Group.

The Florida-based firm that has other similar facilities in the U.S. expects the federal contract to generate roughly $37 million a year in incremental annualized revenues.

Inmates will be offered courses that include basic adult education, introduction to computers, building trades, life skills, religious services and suicide prevention, according to GEO Group.

Truxton has long been a supporter of the facility and said most of the community is also happy with the contract for the prison. 

“A filled bed is a filled bed; it’s profit for GEO and they’re hiring people,” Truxton said. “How is it any different than GM building a new plant in the Detroit area?”

The Baldwin facility accounts for roughly half of the taxable value of the surrounding township and has paid $8 million to upgrade and expand Baldwin’s waste water treatment plant to handle the prison’s new federal population, Truxton said.

“What a privately owned facility like North Lake Correctional Facility means to the poorest county in the state is $1.5 million in ad valorem taxes plus personal property taxes plus jobs,” he said. 

The American Civil Liberties Union has raised concerns about the safety of private federal prisons in other states but did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the new population at North Lake Correction Facility. 

The building was constructed in 1999 and contracted with the Michigan Department of Corrections through 2005 to house offenders under the age of 20, according to department spokesman Chris Gautz. The facility later had a brief contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and a small contract with the Vermont Department of Corrections in 2016. 

GEO Group attempted to sell the prison to the Michigan Department of Corrections a few years ago, but with the group's last, best offer at $100 million the department declined, Corrections Department spokesman Chris Gautz said. 

Privately owned facilities like the one in Baldwin generally present a lower-cost option for the housing of low-security federal prisoners. As of April 2017, the cost to house a low-security inmate at a contracted site such as the Baldwin prison averaged $68.19 a day, while housing an inmate in a low-security federal facility averaged $87.41 a day. 

The Baldwin facility will be one of roughly a dozen private facilities contracted to house federal non-citizen offenders for the Bureau of Prisons. Of the 177,300 federal inmates currently housed by the federal bureau, 33,412 are non-U.S. citizens and nearly 16,000 of those non-U.S. citizens are housed in privately managed facilities like the one in Baldwin, according to federal data. 

Roughly 10,200 inmates being housed within the Federal Bureau of Prisons are being held on immigration-related felonies. 

The correction facility was built in 1999 and provided correctional services to the Michigan Department of Corrections for several years.

Earlier this year, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer blocked the sale of a separate former state prison to a different company that wanted to open an immigration detention center in Ionia because the company — Immigration Centers of America — could not guarantee the facility would only be used to house single adults who were not separate from family when they arrived in the U.S. 

The federal prison bureau began contracting with private companies in 1997 to decrease overcrowding and respond to congressional mandates, according to the U.S. Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Justice.

“Many of the inmates incarcerated in these contract prisons are Mexican nationals with convictions for immigration offenses who have 90 months or less remaining to serve on their sentences,” the inspector general said in a 2016 report.