MDOC INSPECTORS have stated that a new jail in Shiawassee County is warranted. The existing jail on McArthur Street in Corunna was built in 1962, and two additions were completed in the 1980s to bring the facility to its current capacity of 132 beds. While Sheriff Brian BeGole and his staff are making due with the facility, the MDOC report confirms that a new jail may be in the county’s future.

  Shown here is one of the building’s many original plumbing chases, which often fills with water due to corroded pipes and showers being vented into the small closets. The standing water, combined with the high temperatures and stagnant air inside the plumbing chases, has led to mold growth and has been deemed a risk to jail employees and inmates.

(Independent Photo/Graham Sturgeon)

 

by Graham Sturgeon, co-editor

Since 1962 when the Shiawassee County Jail was built, it has housed inmates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, without a break. The building has been expanded several times to increase capacity from 40 beds to 132 beds today, but unfortunately, many details and needed repairs have been overlooked, and Sheriff Brian BeGole and the jail staff are now working to correct as many of the jail’s deficiencies as possible, while working around the problems they cannot solve. The Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) conducted a facility study in February, the findings of which were presented to the Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners in March.

The MDOC inspectors found that extensive repairs need to be made to the jail’s roof, plumbing, ventilation, temperature control system and the “hazardous” electrical wiring. The facility, which is the state’s ninth-oldest jail, is “not efficient by any means,” has an “antiquated” layout and the cells are in “terrible condition,” with leaking fixtures in most cells.

In summary, the inspectors stated, the Shiawassee County Jail “has a variety of costly issues, as outlined in the report. A tremendous amount of the maintenance staff’s time is spent on this one facility. This facility generates between 500 and 700 maintenance requests annually. It is the opinion of the MDOC that a new facility is warranted. If designed properly, a new facility will save a significant amount of money over time in areas such as heating, cooling and repairs. In addition to cost savings, a new facility could help reduce the county’s liability in many areas.”

The design of the jail and numerous expansions have produced several issues that are a danger to the staff, and many seemingly routine repairs have turned into costly, time-consuming projects. The ventilation problems create a damp, unhealthy work environment for corrections deputies. Leaks and equipment failures have routinely led to cells being uninhabitable. That lack of space has made it difficult for jail administrators to keep their minimum and medium security inmates separated, which is a requirement of the MDOC.

The Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners recently approved a $12,000 grant that will allow Sheriff BeGole to update the jail’s two decade-old camera system, which currently produce several blind spots that are unsafe for deputies. Many of the jail’s problems, however, are not so easily addressed.

When outdated equipment fails, replacement parts can be expensive and hard to come by. For instance, some of the jail’s locks are so outdated that nobody in the state of Michigan repairs them. That was discovered recently when the county had to pay $500 for one lock repair.

Many of the facility’s water pipes are encased in concrete beneath the jail. Buildings and Grounds workers have been able to find alternative solutions to keep the system functional, but the potential for a costly plumbing repair is always looming.

Sheriff BeGole understands it is his job to provide a suitable living space for inmates, but he is even more concerned that the deteriorating condition of the jail has created an unhealthy working environment for his correctional deputies.

“This jail is a liability to the county,” said Sheriff BeGole. “The safety of our correctional deputies is paramount, but we must be able to provide a humane living environment for inmates. And on top of the safety issues, the additions to this building over the years have been made with no thought for the administrative working space. Every inch of this jail is being utilized in some way. The kitchen was made to serve 40 inmates and has never been expanded as capacity was raised to 132 beds. The same goes for food storage; we don’t have room in the kitchen, so we had to put freezers in the garage on the other side of the building. That is just one example, but even somewhat minor issues like this make simple tasks much harder and decrease our efficiency.”

From the beginning, the sheriff has sought to improve the jail using the resources he was allotted. This has led him to get creative in finding solutions to the jail’s mounting list of deficiencies. He has sought grants, he has enlisted local volunteer contractors to do repairs and he has put inmates to work. He secured a contract with the city of Hamtramck to house out-of-county offenders in the Shiawassee County Jail, a significant boost in revenue over housing Shiawassee County inmates, and he created inmate work crews to paint the jail, reconfigure the lobby and do landscaping and trash collection throughout the community.

In addition, he re-implemented the drug dog program and has offered the services to the county’s schools; he brought back the evening road patrol; in the lobby he added way-finding signs and a deputy recognition board, which he is very proud of; and he re-implemented the “Inside View” program. Some of these changes may not improve the jail, but it is evident that morale is on the rise inside the sheriff’s office and in the community. Police departments from across the county are training together and sharing resources; calls to “Bring back the Road Patrol” have diminished; and the line of communication between the sheriff’s office and the county commissioners has been re-established. The county is currently conducting a feasibility study to address the jail’s shortcomings, so more definitive solutions should be forthcoming.

Department of Corrections Conducts Facility Study of Jail was last modified: April 23rd, 2018 by Karen Elford