November 21, 2014

UPDATED ON JULY 20 @ 3:30 P.M.: Californians tour prison

By Tim Barnum|News Editor
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STANDISH — A seven-person delegation representing the California Department of Corrections (CDOC) toured the Standish Maximum Correctional Facility (SMF) July 15 as the governments from Michigan and California continue to explore the prospect of alleviating west coast overcrowding, and saving jobs in Standish, by housing inmates in Michigan.

According to SMF Administrative Assistant Rebecca Bailey, the delegation was composed of a captain and lieutenant from the CDOC; an administrator of adult programs; a dentist, psychologist and two more healthcare specialists.

“We provided them with a lot of our policies and procedures,” Bailey said. “They were interested in our security, our programming, our healthcare, our segregation capabilities.

“That was the basis of their visit. … It was more of a tour than a meeting.”

“The California folks will return and prepare assessment and summary reports on the facilities they visited here,” said MDOC Public Information Officer Russell Marlan in an e-mail to the Independent. “We will likely hear something in about a month. We are encouraged and hopeful at this point.”

“They (California delegation) haven’t done any formal reports yet,” said California Department of Corrections Press Secretary Seth Unger. “We still haven’t received a formal proposal (from Michigan) at this point.”

Overall, Bailey says she thought the visit from the California officials went well.

“The group I was with (which was focused on housing and security) had nothing but positive things to say,” she said. “It appeared as though they were pleased with what they were seeing.”

Unger says besides looking at the Michigan prisons, several legislative proposals on how to curb overcrowding in California are still on the table, such as parole reform, population reduction and changes in sentencing guidelines, especially when dealing with what he called “wobblers,” criminals who commit crimes on the fence between misdemeanors and felonies.

SMF is slated to close Oct. 1, however a deal could be negotiated between California and Michigan corrections officials to house California inmates in Standish and the Muskegon Correctional Facility before then, but Unger says no timeline on when California will reach a decision has been established.

The average cost per inmate per year in Michigan is about $30,000 per year, while California pays about $46,000 per inmate per year to incarcerate them in state, which appears to show savings for the Golden State, but Unger says the price comparison doesn’t tell the whole story.

“That’s (cost difference) not really an apples to apples comparison,” he said. “There are a lot of other factors.”

He added that California guidelines in staffing ratios, medical and dental care and programming would all have to be followed, which could cause the per inmate per year cost to change, and that California would also have to pay for transportation back and forth from Michigan.

Unger also says, though, that the budget deficit of $26.3 billion staring at California could improve with less corrections spending.

“It’s (corrections) a piece of the (budget) puzzle,” he said. “Corrections has about a $10 billion budget.

“Roughly ten-percent of the budget (in California) is related to corrections spending.”

When It comes to knowing just how many inmates the state still has to shed due to overcrowding, Unger says the number changes often depending on who is talking about it, but did say the prison system in California has a lot of inmates in uncommon places.

“We have about 10,000 inmates that are in non-traditional beds. Thos are beds that are in day rooms or gymnasiums – places not traditionally used for beds,” Unger said.

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