November 27, 2014

Is Standish Max on the chopping block?

Cuts to Corrections budget starts rumors, fuels uncertainty

By Tim Barnum|Staff writer
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STANDISH — Is the Standish Maximum Correctional Facility (SMF), the county’s number one employer, providing income for 350 people, in trouble of being shut down after an announcement by Governor Jennifer Granholm that the state’s budget will include large cuts to the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC)?

Within the walls of the Standish confine, employee uncertainty regarding job security has grown since the announcement.

“The MDOC budget is not passed yet and there was some talks of them closing some facilities,” said SMF Administrative Assistant Rebecca Bailey. “There’s nothing definite yet about which facilities are closing.”

“There’s a number of beds that are going to be cut,” said SMF Warden Tom Birkett. “Nobody knows what kind of beds will be cut, minimum, maximum or what.

“However, the department is going to be making some cuts.”

“We won’t know anything until the budget is passed,” Bailey said. “It’s (SMF closing) strictly rumor at this point.

“Every facility in the state has the same rumor.”

“It’s generally ‘I heard from this guy who heard from this guy …” Birkett added.

According to the Standish Warden, not only employees of SMF are unsure of the prison’s future. He says a contact of his in the MDOC told him she would be the one to actually announce the cuts and she currently doesn’t even know which beds will be cut out of the state’s budget.

Although rumors are buzzing within the prison, Birkett says the MDOC holds SMF in high regard, possibly helping SMF’s case.

“The Standish prison is well thought of,” he said. “We discharge 98 percent of the maximum security prisoners in the state. … We still have and enjoy a number of employees who want to transfer to Standish.”

Birkett added that the MDOC’s deputy director told him that decisions on corrections cuts would not be made for several months.

But the answer to the question of who, what and where will be affected by the budget downsizing isn’t only evading SMF personnel. 97th District State Rep. Tim Moore (R-Farwell) says even the state house doesn’t know where the cuts will be made.

“At this stage, I don’t think that one (SMF) will be affected. … But never say never because stranger things happen when these budget cycles start up,” Moore said. “I have a firm belief that that prison should remain open.”

He added that most cuts he’s heard about have been relative to minimum-security facilities.

“You’re going to start with the minimum (security) first,” Moore said. “It makes logical sense.”

The third term representative, whose constituency consists of Arenac, Northern Bay, Gladwin and Clare counties, said when the cuts were first announced by the governor, the plan was to save money by releasing prisoners who have served their minimum sentence if they were deemed okay to be set free.

“I have some concerns there,” Moore said, adding the overall corrections cuts aren’t sitting well with him. “There’s other areas in the state we can cut and other areas we should look at.”

He says an example of wasteful state spending is $110 million being spent on a new State Police Headquarters in Lansing that most in the area aren’t in favor of.

According to the MDOC Web site, SMF opened in 1990 and includes five 88-bed housing units and one 164-bed housing unit.

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