State Prison Closures Rock Small Towns
Michigan, a state that’s been shrinking its prison population for years, has closed 15 state prison facilities throughout the decade—probably the most of any state, according to John Cordell, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections.
“We were able to absorb most of the staff that would have been put out on the street” as a result of the prison closures, Cordell said, simply by shuffling staff. But this year the state will close eight prisons and, with looming budget cuts, the department of corrections could see up to 1,000 layoffs, Cordell said. Officials hope layoffs will be closer to half that amount, he said.
For Standish, a small town in northern Michigan that’s home to a maximum security prison the state is preparing to close, the economic effect of the closure will be felt pretty hard.
The prison is the small town’s largest employer.
Michigan’s unemployment rate is already at 15 percent. “That creates even greater pressures for us,” Cordell said.
Cordell predicts the small town of Standish could lose 300 or more good paying jobs when the prison closes this year.
“It is a significant economic hardship,” he said.
But Standish may get some relief—if the federal government decides to transfer Guantanamo Bay detainees to the maximum security facility. The Obama administration is considering the Michigan facility or a facility in Kansas for the detainees, according to the Associated Press.
But Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s office said there’s still no word on the move and it’s unclear whether the Standish facility will be picked to house terrorism suspects from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, the AP reports.
“There is nothing at this point that we’ve been notified of,” Cordell said about the possibility of the Standish facility housing the detainees.
Including the Standish Maximum Correctional Facility, Michigan will close eight prison facilities this year; five of them are prison camps. The cuts will help the department of corrections meet a $120 million savings goal for the 2009-2010 fiscal year corrections budget and comes during tough budget times—the state is facing a $1.4 billion deficit next fiscal year, according to a Michigan Department of Corrections press release.
Other Small Towns Hit
People in small-town Stockton, Kan., got used to seeing the work crews from the local prison mowing the city’s lawns and keeping the parks clean. In fact, the inmate work crews were a welcome blessing as far as most of the town’s 1,500 or so residents were concerned.
But those work crews won’t be lending a helping hand anymore. After severe budget cuts, the state was forced to close down the 128-bed Norton Correctional Facility East Unit prison in Stockton and the inmates were moved to other prisons.
The work crews were a “really big impact—most people don’t understand,” said Keith Schlaegel, city manager for Stockton. “They did so much work around town. We could have our paid employees do other things.”
And in a small town where the minimum security prison facility was a huge economic benefit, it’s not just the work crews the city will be missing.
“Job-wise, it’s another big hit,” Schlaegel said. His small, rural town lost 32 state jobs as a result of the closure.
Other small, rural communities like Stockton were especially hard-hit when Kansas shut down prisons, said Kansas Secretary of Corrections Roger Werholtz. Often, the prisons were a huge economic driver for the small towns. Stockton, for example, is “in a part of the state that is losing its population,” Werholtz said. “They are looking for economic anchors to keep their kids from moving away.”
Stockton wasn’t the only small town in Kansas rocked by the prison closures. The state closed six prison facilities—five so far this year and one last year.
By closing those facilitates and shuffling around other prisoners, the Kansas Department of Corrections cut 447 prison beds out of the state’s budget, according to Werholtz. That means a savings of around $7.8 million just by shutting down prisons.
New Hampshire is in the same bind as Kansas. The state closed its first prison—from the Lakes Region Facility in Laconia—in July.
The closure was due to the “tough economy and budget constraints,” said Jeff Lyons, spokesman for the state’s Department of Corrections.
The New Hampshire Department of Corrections had to deal with a budget that was $2 million less than the previous year, sealing the prison’s fate.
“We all had to change the way we do business,” Lyons said. “This was our way.”
Though the facility employed 100 people, the state was able to move employees to other facilities to avoid laying off so many.
For more on how states are shrinking prison populations and therefore are in a position to shut down prisons, visit statenews.csg.org in October for the newest issue of State News magazine. The issue focuses on corrections in the states
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