National and State Groups Urge Governor Not to Repeat Failed Prison Venture

December 20, 2012

LANSING, MI – A letter signed by 16 Michigan-based and national criminal justice, civil liberties, policy, and faith organizations urged Governor Rick Snyder to veto a bill that would authorize re-opening a private prison with a troubled history.

 SB 878 is intended to permit private prison corporation GEO Group to resume operations of the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin and to incarcerate Michigan or out-of-state prisoners at that facility.

 "This bill is rife with problems many of which we’ve already experienced and don’t need to repeat,” said Barbara Levine, executive director of the Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending. “The GEO Group’s operation of the Baldwin facility in 1997 was strongly criticized by Michigan's auditor general. The prison had inexperienced staff, high turnover, and a host of other operational failures and it makes no sense to go down that road again.”

GEO Group’s previous contract with the state was cancelled in 2005 after the Auditor General Office audit concluded that “the daily cost per prisoner for the private facility was higher than that for 33 of the state’s 37 publicly-operated facilities.”

Those signing the letter urging Governor Snyder to veto the bill listed many other reasons, including the state's precipitous drop in prison population, a decrease of nearly 8,000 since 2007, to kill the bill.

“We know that contractors often 'cherry pick' the least expensive prisoners, leaving the state to pay for those with medical problems or mental illness and those at higher security levels,” said Barbara Levine, executive director of the Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending. “Private prison operators need to make a profit and they frequently do so by cutting corners on security, safety, living conditions and programming that reduces recidivism. We also need to know how the public's oversight will be limited by this bill. At a time when the Governor is stressing transparency and accountability, SB 878 goes in exactly the wrong direction.”

 “Across the country, private prison corporations have been cited for serious mismanagement and the group poised to take over the Michigan facility is among the worse,” said Bob Libal of Grassroots Leadership. “GEO Group was actually kicked out of Mississippi when guards were discovered to be complicit in gang violence and having sex with prisoners. I don’t understand why Michigan or any state for that matter would want to take on such a scandal-ridden firm.”

Signatories on the letter include American Friends Service Committee - MI Justice Program, Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending, Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, Alliance for Immigrants Rights & Reform – Michigan, Enlace, Grassroots Leadership, Human Rights Defense Center, Justice Policy Institute, Justice Strategies, National People's Action, Private Corrections Working Group, The Sentencing Project, and YouthBuild USA.

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