In the 20 years since I left office, I have made it a practice to rarely comment on local news or political activities. But I feel compelled to offer my thoughts today on the topic of the proposed new jail facility for Shiawassee County. This is, in part, because I feel a lot of incomplete information has been circulated over the past few months in many letters to the editor and chatter in local coffee shops. Let me say, unequivocally, that I support the proposed jail.
When I was your state legislator in the mid 1990s, I toured the jail on more than one occasion and saw, even then, what poor condition the facility was in. As a member of the House Mental Health Committee, I also toured state and federal facilities in Ionia, Jackson and Milan. These were facilities where some of our most dangerous criminals are housed, and touring the prisons gave me a bit of a measuring gauge for judging the condition of our county jail. Even then, over 20 years ago, we needed to replace our aging and dilapidated jail.
When I left the legislature at the end of 1998, I was asked to serve with many other citizens on a committee to study our jail needs and come up with a solution. We did that in 1999 and determined the best course going forward was to replace the jail; it simply was beyond the point of band-aids and temporary fixes. And yet, here we are, 20 years later, and that worn out building is still in use, despite its failings and security issues.
Don’t tell me that we can “make do” with further fixes to this jail. It is crippling our budget long term. The costs of a new facility have multiplied greatly since our study of 20 years ago. Nothing gets cheaper. The time has come for all of us to realize we are jeopardizing our deputies and local corrections officers every day that they work in this antiquated facility. And we are foolishly trying to pinch pennies while this jail is costing us dollars.
The cost of the proposed new facility, over time, will save us more than continuing to try to get by with pouring dollars down a money pit. I encourage you to vote “yes” on Tuesday, May 7.
Clark Harder, State Representative, 1991 to 1998