Michigan state lawmakers are debating re-opening GEO Group's prison in Baldwin. This despite the fact that Michigan has a declining prison population and does not need additional prison capacity. According to a report by the Sentencing Project, Michigan saw a 12% decline in its prison population from 2006-2009 (one of the report's authors, Judy Greene, tells us that the decline is now 14%). This decline was ushered in by reforming strict drug sentencing laws and eliminating most mandatory minimum sentences.
The GEO Group's Baldwin facility has a troubled history. When the facility opened in 1999 as the Michigan Youth Correctional Facility (MYCF), a prison for youth sentenced to adult prison time, problems soon arose. State lawmakers held hearings to discuss allegations that the facility was not providing the adequate special education and behavioral support and that 95% of guards working at the prison had no previous corrections experience.[i] The facility saw 33 attempted suicides in the first half of 2000, drawing further scrutiny from state officials.[ii]
In May 2005, a state released a damning audit of MYCF. The report found that the daily cost of per prisoner at the Baldwin facility was higher than 33 of 37 other Michigan prisons, and that the DOC had not adequately measured the benefits of keeping juvenile prisoners in their own facility and was issuing too many “waivers” allowing youth prisoners of different security classifications to be housed together in an effort to maintain occupancy at the facility. This policy increased “the safety risk to staff and prisoners”. In fact, the facility had an average of 3.5 times as many serious misconducts as in other state facilities.[iv]
Resistance is growing to re-open MYCF as GEO's North Lake Correctional Facility. A report issues last week by a coalition of Michigan labor groups further calls into question the ability of GEO or other private prison corporations to operate safe facilities or save the state money. And, civil rights and faith organizations are fighting back against the privatization effort.
[i] Amy Franklin, “Lawmakers hear testimony about problems at juvenile prison,” The Associated Press, August 23, 2000.
[ii] “Suicide attempt figures spur punk prison foes; The youth prison recorded 33 suicide attempts in the first half of 2000 compared to 12 in the first five months of 1999,” Grand Rapids Press, August 25, 2000.
[iii] Corrections officer sentenced for aiding in escape, The Associated Press, November 14, 2002.
[iv] Office of the Auditor General, Performance Audit of the Michigan Youth Correctional Facility, May 2005.