November 26, 2014

MDOC says prison closure based on level-five need

SMF closure in-line with CSG Justice Center report recommendations

By John Fischer|Staff writer
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STANDISH — The Standish Maximum Correctional Facility (SMF) opened on April 1, 1990, and by the start of the 2010 fiscal year (Oct. 1), it will have been closed in a realigning effort by the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) to achieve $120 million in savings for the State’s budget.

"By making the difficult decisions now and resizing state government to more accurately reflect the actual revenues we have I am hopeful that we can begin putting our fiscal house in order and avoid these annual cuts in the future. It is my understanding that many of the Corrections Officers and all of the prisoners will be moved to other facilities. I will continue to monitor this situation and will be diligent in demanding that the Department of Corrections consider public safety first and foremost as they consolidate operations across the state," said Michigan Sen. Jim Barcia (D – Bay City).

According to John Cordell, public information officer with the MDOC, several factors were looked at in the closings of three prison facilities and five camps, which will end the MDOC Camp Program.

“Specifically, for Standish, prisoners at that security level (level-5) can be reclassified [to level-4],” Cordell said. He added, after this realignment, only three prisons in Michigan will house level-5 inmates as SMF, which at this time employs between 350 and 375 people, has for the past 19 years.

Cordell says there weren’t many other factors contributing to the closing of SMF, which has a capacity of 604 beds and currently has a population of 524 inmates, beside the level and cost.

“The cost to close Standish was a lot less than it would have been for the other [facilities],” Cordell said.

He says the decision by the MDOC to close facilities was based on cold-hard statistics relating to prison population only, which didn’t take into consideration several glaring findings highlighted in the non-partisan Council on State Governments (CSG) Justice Center report the MDOC is currently using as a guide to reorganize the State’s justice system.

“Michigan has a declining prison population,” Cordell, who referenced the press release of the prison/camp closures, said. “Michigan has its lowest prison population in seven years.”

He added the main focus in the realigning process deals with prison sentence length.

“Right now, prisoners in Michigan serve about 137-percent of their minimum sentence,” he said. “That’s about 17-percent higher than the National average.”

Cordell says Michigan’s legislature allows for an unprecedented gap between minimum and maximum sentencing for a specific crime, per the CSG report.

“What that means is a crime could have a 4-year minimum for a sentence but also carry a 20-year maximum,” he said. “The report basically says if you want the crime to carry a 10-year sentence then make it 10 to 12 years, not four to 20.”

He added that specific recommendation would need further assistance because it has to deal with legislation, but he says parole boards are beginning to release “model” prisoners who’ve served between 100 and 127-percent of their imposed sentence.

Cordell says the MDOC is working to transfer as many employees as possible to other facilities as well as working with Michigan Works! and other displaced worker services; however, he says due to the proximity of SMF to other facilities, Standish could see significant cases in which no help is available.

“We’ll (MDOC) work with these employees to offer them any help we can get them,” he said. “Standish could be significant though (with out-of-work prison employees).”

Cordell also says there has been no official discussion regarding the possibility of Guantanamo Bay detainees being housed at SMF or any other of the closed prisons.

“It’s (housing detainees) always a possibility if the community has support and wants to take on the task,” he said. “But currently, there’s been nothing officially discussed.”

The MDOC press release referenced by Cordell says “recent actions taken by the State of Michigan, starting with the introduction of the Michigan Prisoner Reentry Initiative (MPRI) in 2004, have contributed to…the number of prisoners entering the corrections system (being) declined by 9-percent in 2008 and 4-percent in the first four months of 2009.”

Cordell acknowledged several findings in the CSG report — which states violent crimes in Michigan have slightly decreased (2-percent), however, arrests for those crimes have decreased significantly (22-percent) — saying those statistics may be true, although none directly affect or are related to MDOC matters.

“[MDOC] doesn’t have control over how criminal activity occurs or is (apprehended),” Cordell said. “If all those things (CSG report recommendations) occurred, that could be (that Michigan crime hasn’t decreased and prison population may increase retroactively).

“We control what we can.”

He also said he’d like to utilize educational programs in the future, deterring behavioral precursors seen in criminals before they are formed in young people.

“If you talk to teachers, you can ask them, ‘who are the children who’ll probably be in trouble with the law someday?’ and they can tell you,” Cordell said.

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