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Sunday, June 17, 2012
Plan for private prison sparks worries in Green Oak Township
A plan to privatize the entire Woodland Center Correctional Facility is another example of the state "reneging" on a 2009 promise to safeguard the high-security facility, Green Oak Township Supervisor Mark St. Charles said.
The 2013 state budget awaiting Gov. Rick Snyder's signature includes seeking competitive bids for all services at the Green Oak prison — including corrections officers — as part of an $11.1 million Department of Corrections savings plan. Of that amount, privatizing Woodland would account for about $1.3 million in savings, according to the state Senate Fiscal Agency.
The savings plan also includes seeking private bids statewide for physical and mental health care at prisons, including bidding for psychotropic drugs for prisoners with mental illnesses.
St. Charles noted that in February 2009, corrections officials guaranteed a standing-room-only crowd at Township Hall that security would be the top priority in a then-planned-for change to move higher-security, mentally ill adult males to the neighboring Maxey Training School campus in the township.
Today, the prison for adult males is on the southern side of M-36, and Maxey Training School is on the opposite side of the state highway.
"None of that involved private ownership or being run by the private sector, so right from the get-go — back to my same premise — the state of Michigan is breaking a promise to us when they came in. It was going to be run as a first-class correctional facility, and the residents had nothing to worry about," St. Charles said.
He first said in April that the state was "reneging" on its security promise by ceasing around-the-clock armed patrols in vehicles on the prison's grounds.
Effective April 1, Woodland and Michigan's 25 other prisons with nonstop armed patrols shifted to random patrols and now rely more heavily on surveillance cameras, electrified fencing and high-efficiency lighting.
The decision to competitively bid the entire Woodland facility — including corrections officers — was an internal one made within the Department of Corrections, explained Russ Marlan, spokesman for the department.
Marlan said a request for proposals for prison services hasn't been issued, but it would most likely be for operation of the entire prison.
That means existing officers and staff at Woodland will have to compete for their own jobs.
Marlan said Woodland was targeted for privatization because it has a high daily cost to house the high-security prisoners.
Snyder called for competitively bidding Woodland in his recommendation for the new budget, which takes effect Oct. 1.
Statewide, the 2013 budget would require competitively bidding prison stores, food service and operation of up to 1,750 prisoner beds.
It also would require competitively bidding the state's Special Alternative Incarceration Program, an alternative to prison for male and female prisoners and probationers convicted of certain crimes. Courts determine who is eligible for the program.
State Rep. Bill Rogers, R-Genoa Township, represents Green Oak Township in Lansing. Rogers said seeking competitive bids for taxpayer-funded services should be part of state departments' due diligence.
He said the process doesn't always yield lower prices, but it is necessary to control state spending.
"I don't care how it turns out. You have to competitively bid that stuff," Rogers said.
"We know that we have problems in our correctional facilities with costs. We're the highest in the region, and we expect these people will do due diligence and make sure their contracts are in line," he added.
He said he doesn't agree with seeking private bids for corrections officers and security staff if the sole intent is to save money, however.
St. Charles said the current relationship between Woodland faculty and township officials, including first responders, will end once a private contractor takes over. He said private contractors, in general, don't feel beholden to local units.
He said there is a "driving thought" in Lansing that the private sector can run state operations cheaper, a concept he said usually doesn't prove true. He said privatization of prisons in other states has consistently resulted in higher operational rates, all of which are funded with tax dollars.
In the end, the per-prisoner, per-day cost is going to go up, he said.
"Somebody's going to be paying for it," he said.
"There is no state that has been successful with 100 percent privatization," St. Charles added.
Private vendors would most likely want to keep current, trained staff when possible. That could be of particular concern at Woodland, which has staff trained in the mental health care of inmates, Dan O'Connor, Senate Fiscal Agency analyst, said.
O'Connor said a private contract with the state could include a requirement that all current employees stay on the job, if those employees want to continue working under private operation.
Private contracting at prison facilities has been held up by legal issues related to private companies running state-owned facilities, O'Connor said. He said legislation may be required to address those issues before requests for proposals can go out.
**This information is being shared by Citizens for Prison Reform for purely informational purposes.
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