News | Privatization | February 27, 2012

Pressure is mounting to reopen privately run Baldwin facility, despite decline in Michigan’s inmate population.

Lawmakers are understandably frustrated about setbacks in their effort to reduce prison costs but shouldn’t be too quick to jump at a proposal for reopening a moribund, privately owned facility near Baldwin in the northwestern Lower Peninsula. At first glance, this plan makes little sense when the state already has more than enough beds to house a prison population that has been declining in recent years.

Assuming the 1,750-bed prison were reopened, the state Corrections Department would have to mothball at least one of its existing facilities, lay off the employees and shuffle their inmates to the Baldwin site. If all that could be accomplished and the state still could generate annual savings from such a move, only then would this proposal have merit.

Because of its shrinking inmate population, the state has closed eight prisons and seven prison camps in the past five years. Even after the most recent shutdown, the Mound Correctional Facility in Detroit, which closed last month, the Corrections Department reported that it had 700 surplus beds.

Legislation currently proposed in the Senate would be permissive in nature: It would allow — not require — the Corrections Department to reopen the prison if certain conditions can be met, including 5 percent annual savings compared to the costs of keeping the inmates behind bars in one of the other correctional centers. Based on current costs and assuming all the beds were filled, the savings would have to range from at least $2.1 million to $3.4 million a year — depending on which level of prisoners were kept at Baldwin, according to the Senate Fiscal Agency.

Read>> State should resist reopening Baldwin prison