MUNISING, Mich. — It costs Michigan taxpayers double the normal $33,000 annual prisoner cost to hold an inmate in a segregation cell, and one Upper Peninsula correctional facility is experimenting with a system of incentives to reduce the misconduct that leads to the disciplinary measure.
The Michigan Department of Corrections uses what it calls “administrative segregation” to isolate prisoners classified as having adjustment problems or posing safety, security, or escape risks.
The Alger Correctional Facility is seeing a 10 percent reduction in use of segregation cells with the “Incentives in Segregation” pilot project that started in July, 2009.
The prison is about 330 miles north-northwest of Detroit.
The program has reduced major misconduct and so-called critical incidents in segregation by more than half, the Detroit Free Press reported Sunday.
“When you start re-enforcing positive behavior, [prisoners] have something to lose,” said Warden Catherine Bauman. “It’s made a safer environment for staff and prisoners.”
Ms. Bauman said the program helped her prison convert one of its segregation units into double-bunk housing two years ago. She said it also has encouraged her officers to interact more with inmates.
“It empowers me to do my job,” said Corrections Officer Tracy Berg, who now helps train staff members at other prisons.
About 1,000 Michigan inmates are under administrative segregation, the highest and most restrictive level of custody.
With space for 44,200 inmates, the Department of Corrections has 1,126 administrative segregation cells in the 32 prisons it operates. It also has 542 punitive detention and temporary holding cells.
In segregation, inmates are isolated from programs, treatment, and other people, and restricted to their cells for 23 hours a day. They are handcuffed when leaving their cells and they eat off serving trays pushed through the slots of steel doors.
“Getting some incentives breaks up your time and gives you a chance to work for something,” said inmate Patrick Thomas, 44, of Detroit, who has spent five months in segregation for possessing a shank. “You can go stir crazy just sitting in a cell.”
Before returning to the general population at Alger, segregation inmates work through six stages over several months. Each stage requires tasks and grants privileges.
At Stage 2, prisoners must explain why they are in segregation and what they need to do to get out. In that stage, they can use library services and get some recreation time.
The Alger program expanded in 2009 to the Upper Peninsula’s Baraga Correctional Facility, which converted one of its four segregation units in 2011.
Ionia Correctional Facility and Marquette Branch prison also have adopted the program, and Bellamy Creek plans to do so as well.
Officials in Ohio, California, Colorado, Maine, and New York have requested information on Alger’s incentive program.