Saturday Shorts: Keep prison costs in check

The Detroit News

The Michigan Department of Corrections admits $1.7 million was incorrectly paid to care for 349 prisoners after they were released from prison or paroled.

Corrections spokesman Chris Gautz says all of the money has been returned and action has been taken to prevent future over payments.

In a report by the Michigan Prosecuting Attorneys Association, the corrections budget’s largest expense is prisoner health care, which was at 14.5 percent in 2013.

“We looked at all Great Lakes states and (Michigan was) the highest and Illinois the lowest,” noted Genesee prosecutor David Leyton, a board member of the association.

In 2011, the most recent figures available, Michigan was spending $7,485 per prisoner for health care. The Midwest average was $5,477 and the state’s neighbors were not even close, with Indiana at $3,858 and Illinois at $3,051.

The MDOC may have dodged a bullet with the recent overpayments since all the money is back, but the department must prevent any future unnecessary disbursements. The budget can’t afford it.

Prison will bolster Baldwin

After almost a decade of on again, off again use, the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin appears to be back in business, which is good news to the community.

The state of Vermont reportedly has transferred 280 prisoners from a privately owned prison in Kentucky to the Michigan facility, which is a former state prison but now owned by the GEO Group Inc.

The facility was shut down in 2005 as a Michigan Department of Corrections budget cutting move. It was reopened briefly by the GEO Group in 2011 but closed again when plans to move California prisoners there fell through.

The prisoner shift has several benefits.

For Vermont, housing the prisoners will cost about $2,055 less per year, per prisoner. The Baldwin facility also is considered to be more modern and has better security.

For Baldwin, which suffered financially because of the prison’s closing, the reopened facility should give the area a needed economic boost. The 1,740-bed facility employs 130 workers, with about one fourth of them coming from the area.

A boon for Great Lakes commerce

The process is slow, but it appears efforts are progressing to obtain funds for a badly needed third lock at the Soo.

A spokesman for Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, who is leading the drive to build the lock, says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is proceeding with an economic analysis to determine the need for the lock. It’s a convoluted process but the review is an important step among many in getting approval for the federal funds.

Construction has begun on the lock, which would accommodate 1,000-foot freighters. The lock is seen as an economic necessity for Great Lakes commerce.

Of the two operating locks, only the Poe Lock is big enough for the large freighters. The importance of this lock can’t be exaggerated. About 70 percent of the commercial goods that go through the Soo must use the Poe Lock, so, if it is shut down, currently there is no alternative.