I do not question the need for a new or remodeled county jail. I question almost doubling the capacity of the jail, and the $37-million price tag levied at 1.64 mills for 20 years for a grand total of about $70 million dollars.
The millage would pay for the jail itself, $5.6 million for operating costs, $6 million for programs to curb recidivism, and provide a $4-million surplus. I note population has been declining and aging in this county since 1975, and school enrollment is trending down as well. Shiawassee County is contracting, as more and more people move to urban areas. This millage is banking on the dubious expectation that the county will grow in population over the next 20 years and the value of our homes will increase. There are no facts to support this, yet the millage is based on it.
A county jail is meant to house misdemeanor offenders, usually for time period less than one year. A person has the right to trial within 180 days, after all.
There is no question society benefits from housing criminals, and the legal and judicial system must be funded appropriately. The answer may be not to incarcerate more people. In fact, studies have unequivocally shown that for the average non-violent offender, successful integration back into the community does not come from increased jail time.
I find it interesting the same people who complain loudly about supporting people who “refuse to work” or are “on the government dole” have no issues with housing a county criminal offender for up to two years with all medical, dental, food, clothing, education and housing expenses paid. I believe the cost is about $35,000 per prisoner annually. We do this when many families cannot find the funds to assist their children attend community college after high school.
I would support the following:
n A new, secure entry (sallyport) at the courthouse is needed as a matter of public safety. The commissioners should have funded this long ago.
n Any new jail should have a “sight and sound” section, which will enable the probate judge to house juveniles for less than 24-hour periods if a corrections officer can see and hear them. These kids are apprehended locally by police but there is no one to take them to a juvenile detention center at 3 a.m. Other county jails have a small cell where a juvenile can be monitored until arrangements can be made. This would be cost effective and smart.
n Reduce the size of the jail to 120 units or less.
n Look for grants (not tax dollars) to curb recidivism and jail time (as our circuit court drug court does with great success).
n Scratch the surplus. This was a joke, right?
n Find the operating costs from the annual county budget as should be done.
Show me the county is setting aside funds from present dollars for anticipated upkeep and repair of the facility.
More criminal defendants should be released on bail. It is a fact that up to 60 percent of jail inmates statewide are incarcerated because they cannot make bail, not because they have been convicted of a crime. Placing the emphasis on public safety, not the ability to pay, could substantially cut down on jail expenditures without posing a risk to public safety.
We have a new public defender office in Shiawassee County. Providing more indigent defendants with an attorney early in the process should cut down on incarceration days. This program is just getting off the ground.
I was stunned to learn the Shiawassee County Medical Care Facility saved almost $13 million toward the cost of its new building over their past years of operation. This is how planning should be done, thoughtfully and in advance. It appears that the commissioners have set aside absolutely nothing toward the future needs of the jail, and consequently we are starting from scratch.
Whatever your thoughts on the matter, please exercise your right to vote May 7. I intend to vote “no.”
Rebecca C. McClear