THE MICHIGAN Department of Corrections (MDOC) cited Shiawassee County in 2018 for the inhumane conditions of the Shiawassee County Jail. Among the problems plaguing the jail are outdated infrastructure/equipment and poor maintenance practices, which have necessitated numerous costly and time consuming repairs.
Repairing outdated equipment, such as toilet/sink fixtures and cell door locks, is not only costly, but often time consuming. In the photo above, the sink/toilet fixture requiring repair had to be completely removed and fixed off site. Though the repair work is done in Shiawassee County, the average turn-around is three weeks to one month.
(Independent Photo/Graham Sturgeon)
by Graham Sturgeon, co-editor
Sheriff Brian BeGole will present bond proposal language to the Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday, Feb. 6 during the board’s Committee of the Whole meeting, which is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. The bond proposal will ask voters to allow the county to levy a millage of 1.64 mills per thousand dollars of state taxable valuation for the period of 20 years, beginning in 2019, for the purpose of funding construction of a new county jail. If approved by the commissioners, the bond proposal will be submitted for inclusion on the Tuesday, May 7 election ballot.
Sheriff BeGole presented conceptual designs for a new jail to the commissioners in October 2018, which included three possible sites, with cost estimates ranging from $37 million to approximately $40 million. The sites considered include the current jail property, a farm located just south of Corunna and the 24.9-acre Griffin Home site on N. Shiawassee Street, where the county’s parole/probation/work release center is currently located.
The Griffin Home property, the least expensive of the three options with an estimated project cost of $37,701,453, was selected. That figure includes the cost of demolishing the current jail and preparing, constructing and equipping the new jail, along with the cost of adding a sally port to the courthouse. The funds will also cover the increased operating expenses for the new jail, which are estimated at $231,917 annually.
The proposed jail would be much larger than the current jail – from 25,571 square feet to 62,789 square feet – and would include 224 beds, compared to 132 beds in the current jail. The jail contained approximately 40 beds when it opened in 1962 and has undergone several expansions since to increase capacity. Unfortunately, as the jail’s capacity increased, the building’s layout, structural integrity and routine maintenance were largely overlooked, which has led to a number of significant deficiencies and reoccurring problems. Sheriff BeGole notes that the jail generates between 500 and 700 work orders every year, requiring the county’s buildings and grounds department to dedicate approximately 60 percent of its man hours to constantly rehabbing the jail.
An MDOC jail study of the Shiawassee County Jail presented to the board in March 2018 cited liability concerns, as well as the jail’s inefficient and antiquated layout, terrible overall condition and outdated equipment. The MDOC report concluded that construction of a new facility is warranted.
A feasibility study conducted by Byce & Associates, presented to the board in October, concluded that “all systems are beyond their useful life,” the jail is “operationally dysfunctional and staff inefficient,” and that continuing to use the jail is “not feasible.” The report also warned that liability concerns could lead the MDOC to force the county to close the facility.
While a new jail would address the concerns listed above, Sheriff BeGole has made mental health care/treatment a central part of the new jail’s design. To aid in this effort, the sheriff has secured a commitment from Shiawassee Health & Wellness (H&W) to provide screening and assessment services, evidence-based group/individual therapy, emergency mental health services, psychoeducational groups, reintegration services and psychiatric consultation. Shiawassee H&W will also provide cross training to better equip the county’s law enforcement to interact with subjects with mental health challenges.
“Seventeen percent of our inmates have a mental disorder of some kind and are not getting the help they need,” shared Sheriff BeGole. “Addressing this is something that is very important to me and will go a long way towards stopping recidivism. Our partnership with Shiawassee Health & Wellness will allow us to screen each patient at intake and provide the services they need to improve. Also, 72 percent of inmates have substance abuse problems when they enter the jail, and this partnership will help us address those issues as well.”
Another aspect of Sheriff BeGole’s plan is to create educational and vocational training opportunities, which will help inmates discover and hone practical skills that will make them more employable following release. These programs will most likely include a GED certification course and could include a bevy of vocational classes focused on, for instance, welding, framing, gardening, food preparation, vehicle maintenance, small engine repair and marketability/employability skills, among others.