LANSING, Mich. - State officials want to boost bed space at nine minimum-security prisons in Michigan so another prison can be closed as a way to slow rising incarceration costs.
The state Department of Corrections said the move, which was detailed Wednesday before the Senate Appropriations Judiciary and Correction Subcommittee, will save $10 million a year. It is part of a plan to save Michigan's cash-strapped state government $92 million in the budget year that starts Oct. 1.
"It will make us more efficient and produce some cost savings," Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan said.
Under the plan, eight prisoners will be kept in holding areas, up from the current number of seven. The once-temporary housing units were originally designed to hold five inmates when they opened in the 1980s.
The change will add 1,488 beds throughout Michigan's 51,000-inmate prison system, or about 160 prisoners at each of the affected prisons.
The plan to squeeze more inmates into housing units drew criticism from a union representing corrections officers who worry about their safety and from the Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending, a Lansing-based nonprofit policy group. Barbara Levine with CAPPS predicted it will make overcrowding worse.
"It will cause great tension in the housing units and more stress on common areas like bathrooms, chow halls and visiting rooms," Levine said.
Marlan said more correctional officers will be added to handle the extra prisoners, adding that officials are confident the prisons can accommodate the inmates.
The state plans to close a 1,500-inmate prison in Jackson in July, though the closure is in doubt because a federal judge has rejected the department's plan to transfer sick prisoners to other facilities. Marlan said a second prison will be closed, too, though officials have not yet determined which one.
The Corrections Department recently scaled back plans to release parole-eligible inmates to make sure only nonviolent or sick inmates get out, but remains confident it can slow prison spending.
A key part of the department's proposal to save money next year is revising Michigan's sentencing guidelines so fewer criminals get prison time. Those changes would need the approval of the Legislature.
Sen. Alan Cropsey, a DeWitt Republican who chairs the corrections subcommittee, said Wednesday he is frustrated that no sentencing legislation has yet been introduced when the next proposed budget by Gov. Jennifer Granholm projects savings from sentencing changes and would begin in less than five months.
Cropsey also expressed concern that prosecutors, sheriffs and others in law enforcement who opposed previous attempts at sentencing changes haven't been closely involved in crafting whatever is eventually proposed.
Corrections Deputy Director Dennis Schrantz said the Democratic governor's office is working to propose sentencing changes soon. He said lawmakers will be given summaries of the legislation if it is not introduced within weeks, and the administration hopes to get all sides at the table.
Under the bed-boosting plan announced Wednesday, inmates will be added at the Cooper Street and Parnall facilities in Jackson, Parr Highway in Adrian, Boyer Road in Carson City, Hiawatha in Kincheloe, Deerfield in Ionia, Pine River and Mid-Michigan in St. Louis, and West Shoreline in Muskegon.
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