Economic Development, Government, and Law

Department of Corrections and auditors dispute prison closures

January 7, 2019
| By AP |
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LANSING — The Michigan Department of Corrections is failing to adequately document how it determines which prisons are selected for closure, according to a recent audit report.

Auditors determined in a Dec. 28 report that the department failed to show how collecting information on the facilities' age, condition, economic impact and operational costs plays a role in a prison being closed, the Lansing State Journal detailed.

The recent audit was a review of one done in 2012 that found the department did not evaluate costs of facilities, including some that it had closed, and did not keep sufficient documentation supporting the factors weighed by department leaders who decided which prisons should be closed or consolidated.

"We recommend that DOC improve its documentation by identifying how the data gathered, including the potential economic impact, contributed to its facility closure recommendations," the audit states.

The department closed three prisons from 2016 to 2018 - Pugsley Correctional Facility in Kingsley in 2016, and West Shoreline Correctional Facility in Muskegon and Ojibway Correctional Facility in the Upper Peninsula in 2018.

Auditors stated the department is charged with considering the economic impact of closures. But department spokesman Chris Gautz contends there is no single factor that determines which prisons are shuttered, including a prison's impact on a local economy.

"All of our facilities have an economic impact on their communities, and some would have had more of an impact than Ojibway would have, so it certainly is a factor but it's never the deciding factor," Gautz said, referencing the most recent closure. "We can't make a decision for the entire department based on how one community will potentially (be impacted)."

Gautz argued that auditors are "moving the goalposts" by asking for written justification of closures versus collecting data and considering prisons' economic influence.

Corrections employees also have questions about the decision-making that precedes prison closures.

"There needs to be real transparency and there needs to be (more help with) transition for the areas in which they close a prison," Michigan Corrections Organization Executive Director Andy Potter said.

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