Keep For-Profit Prisons Out of Michigan

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A private prison closed since 2017 will reopen in Baldwin, MI, located about 100 miles north of Holland. The prison, North Lake Correctional Facility, was built in the 1990s by the Geo Group (under a former name) to hold over a thousand inmates. Before it’s close in 2017, the facility was housing less than 300 from Vermont. The Geo Group’s new 10-year federal contract was announced in May, to praise by the local government for the hundreds of jobs that it will produce. North Lake is to hold non-citizens for federal crimes. Michigan Department of Corrections has no jurisdiction over the agreement, and Corrections Director Heidi Washington “opposes the idea of privatizing state prisons as she believes incarceration is a core function of government,” a spokesman said. 

The GEO Group, who will run the facility, is the world’s second largest private prison company; they reported $2.26 billion in revenue from 2017, most of which is derived from federal contracts. Private prison companies capitalize off of mass incarceration, spending millions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions to encourage policies—such as mandatory minimums—that will result in greater profit. The government contracts private companies to run prisons under the belief that it is the cheaper method. The primary method of cost saving in these facilities is lower salaries; corrections officers employed by private corporations earn up to $23,850 less on average in annual salary compared to the public sector. Another cost saving method is to higher fewer officers, a strategy which has led to harmful understaffing. The GEO Group has been specifically criticised for conditions of its prisons. At Adelanto immigrant detention center in California, run by GEO Group, there were seven suicide attempts between December 2016 and October 2017, and 35 prisoners participated in a hunger strike to protest their conditions.

Despite all of these clear disadvantages, there has been no conclusive evidence that private prisons are neither more efficient nor more inexpensive than their public counterparts. And to the local government of Baldwin that praises North Lake’s reopening: studies have found that prisons offer little economic benefit to struggling, rural communities. Although new prisons create jobs, local residents are not necessarily in a position to be hired. Additionally, private prisons obtain subsidies and property tax exemptions while receiving municipal services—costing the local communities and using taxpayer money. 

North Lake will be the only private prison running in Michigan. Let’s make sure there aren’t any at all.