Despite opposition from Republicans, Michigan's youth prison was closed
last month when Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) announced the first budget bills
for the 2005-06 fiscal year. The move helped trim a projected deficit of $770
million. The prison closing was one of the most hotly contested items in the
"This costly facility is not needed and was originally constructed to
house violent young offenders, but the need for this facility never
materialized," the governor said.
Her office noted that the legislative auditor general said less-expensive
beds can be used to house the teen offenders, saving the state $17.8 million a
Earlier this year the Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service Inc. filed a
lawsuit against State Department of Corrections Director Patricia Casuso,
Michigan Youth Correction Facility Warden Frank Elo, and the GEO Group Inc., a
Florida-based, prison-management company that owns and runs the state's
private prison at Baldwin, claiming the prison was mismanaged.
After the state had given the company a 60-day notice that it was
terminating the lease, the GEO Group made a last-minute offer to cut the cost
of the state's $18.8 million four-year contract by at least $2 million a year,
an indication of how profitable private prisons are. Now the state faces a
lawsuit over the lease for the privately built facility, and prison supporters
say the fight is not over.
The Michigan Youth Correctional Facility was built in 1999 under former
Gov. John Engler (R), who promised good-paying jobs to residents in the
poverty-stricken Lake County region; it was the state's first privately run,
for-profit prison. Soon after it opened, parents of teenaged boys convicted as
adults alleged that their children had suffered physical, mental, and sexual
abuse at the maximum-security prison. Their allegations were backed up by a
"Even though we anticipated that the facility was to be closed
regardless, we went ahead and filed the suit because [staff] were not
providing the proper services to the kids," Tom Masseau, public policy
specialist with the Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service, told
Psychiatric News. The suit accused the prison of neglecting inmates'
physical and mental health and failing to provide enough trained counselors
for those suffering from mental illnesses and developmental disabilities.
Masseau said there was only one full-time social worker for 483 inmates. He
added that low-level offenders were housed with convicted rapists and
murderers. Many inmates were kept in isolation for days at a time without
recreation and as punishment for minor offenses were limited to a few showers
"Sixty-one suicide attempts were reported between October 2004 and
March 2005," Masseau said. "This is a significant increase,
because for all of 2003, there were only 18 suicide attempts," he
Masseau attributed the suicide attempts to the lack of proper treatment for
inmates, many of whom suffered from mental illness and developmental
disabilities. "Now that the facility is closed, we will be monitoring
what happens to these kids to make sure that the state provides the
appropriate services for them," he said.
The GEO Group said it will vigorously contest the allegations and
questioned the plaintiffs' motivation and timing. It warned it will pursue and
enforce any remedies under the law against the Michigan Advocacy and
Management and Budget Department spokesperson Bridget Medina had no
immediate comment on the lease issue and what options the state was
Many people in the mental health and human service communities agreed that
it was time Michigan dissolved its relationship with the GEO Group, a
worldwide operation that runs prisons in the United States, Canada, South
Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.
"I fully expected Gov. Granholm to end the contract, and that was
sound public policy," Mark Reinstein, Ph.D., CEO, and president of the
Mental Health Association in Michigan, told Psychiatric News."
The mental health and human service communities had serious concerns
about the efficacy and performance of this facility."
Psychiatrist Michele Reid, M.D., medical director of the Detroit-Wayne
County Community Mental Health Agency and a corresponding member of APA's
Council on Member and District Branch Relations, noted that the Mental Health
Commission had received testimony from many families and deliberated
extensively on mental health services to persons in correctional settings for
both juveniles and adults.
"We are elated that the youth prison is closed. It's a scandal that
it was ever opened and continued to be run in such a way that could do so much
damage to so many children," Susan McParland, director of the Michigan
Association for Children With Emotional Disorders, told Psychiatric
News. "Our organization had urged that the Baldwin facility, or
so-called `punk prison,' be closed.... There was no purpose for this facility.
As advocates for kids, we know that detention in general does a lot of harm to
children who have emotional disorders, and this facility was the `belly of the
beast' so to speak."
State Sen. Michelle McManus (R), whose Lake Leelanau district includes the
prison, claims the suit sucker-punched residents of a county that often leads
the state in unemployment and poverty.
"Just when it seems things can't get any darker for residents of Lake
County, the groups that are against the prison found one more stunt to
pull," she said. "This suit was clearly timed for maximum
Republican legislators who favor privatization wanted the funding for the
prison to continue and disputed the claims that adult prisons have enough beds
to accommodate the youthful inmates who were shipped to adult prisons
beginning October 1.
Corrections spokesperson Leo Lalonde said 320 prisoners would be
transferred to the Thumb Correctional Facility, with others scattered
throughout the system. Sexual assaults at juvenile prisons occur 10 times more
often than at adult prisons, according to information released by the Bureau
of Justice Statistics in July. ▪