You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 5:10 p.m.

Prison privatization focus of statewide forum Saturday at Eastern Michigan University

By Kody Klein

Several Michigan legislators will discuss issues in the state's prison system at a statewide forum Saturday at Eastern Michigan University.

prison conference.PNG

Courtesy of Eastern Michigan University Diversity and Community Involvement

State Sen. Rebekah Warren and state representatives Jeff Irwin, David Rutledge, Harvey Santana and Fred Durhal will discuss prison privatization, mass incarceration and prison reform along with leaders from several public organizations, including Mark Fancher, racial justice staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union.

The conference is from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the EMU Student Center. Reggie Barnes, director for EMU Diversity and Community Involvement, said admission is free, but asked attendants to register beforehand to ensure there's enough food, which he said will be provided by Einstein Bros. Bagels.

The conference's organizers, Roderick Casey and Lefiest Galimore, two local activists, said they wanted to unite people against Public Act 599, a law passed in January that allows private organizations to bid for state contracts for correctional services.

"This is not only a threat to humanity, it’s a threat to the integrity of our political and our judicial systems," Casey said.

The legislation was passed as part of an effort to reduce state corrections expenses. According to the 2010 Annual Report by the Michigan Department of Corrections, the corrections budget for that year was $1.93 billion.

"The legislature has been pushing for this a long time," said Russ Marlan, public information officer for the MDOC. "We know what our per-day-per-prisoner costs are but what we don’t know is what those private companies could deliver those same services for. That’s what those legislators want to see. They want to see competition."

But people critical of the legislation fear that a private company would have incentive to maximize its prison populations and a disincentive to rehabilitate inmates for successful assimilation into free society.

"There’s no incentive for private corporations to rehabilitate," Galimore said. "That’s how they make their money."

Marlin said the state would pay private companies a per-prisoner-per-day rate for their correctional services. This means that a private prison's revenue would be tied to its population.

USA Today reported last year that Corrections Corporations of America sent a $250 million proposal to 48 states, offering to buy state prisons if the states could guarantee a 90 percent occupancy rate for 20 years.

Casey and Galimore also expressed concern for Michigan's Violent Offense-Fourth Felony law. Passed as Public Act 319 last October, the law requires 25-year sentences for anyone charged with a violent felony who has three prior felony convictions.

"The prison system is set up to feed on itself," Galimore said. "I can’t believe our legislators would pass those kinds of bills."

Casey called these policies a modern form of Black Codes, stressing that they strengthen the disproportionate incarceration and recidivism of black men.

The MDOC 2011 Statistical Report said that 23,974 of the 42,904 inmates in Michigan prisons were "non-white." Marlan said black inmates make up 95 percent of the "non-white" prison population. That means there were roughly 22,775 black inmates in Michigan prisons in 2011, 53 percent of the total prison population.

According to census information available at the state's website, 14 percent of Michigan's population was black in 2010.

"It’s a form of modern slavery," Barnes said. "Guys go into prison. They get paid, 30, 40, 50 cents a day to do manual labor for the entire day. It’s almost like indentured servitude."

Marlan confirmed that some Michigan inmates are employed, making license plates, officer and prisoner uniforms, road signs, habitat houses, and other products.

"It’s primarily educational and vocational employment and skills training," Marlan said. "You not only teach them a skill, whether that be some sort of manufacturing or service skill. But you also teach them the soft skills of getting up and going to work, listening to supervisors, working with co-workers. That will be beneficial to them when they get out of prison."

The inmates are paid rates ranging from $0.74 per hour to $3.50 per day. Marlan said the reduced wages help mitigate the costs of housing the inmates and providing them with food, clothing and health care.

"All of that stuff is free of charge to them," he said.

Marlan was going to speak at the conference but had to pull out, because a bid the MDOC issued a month ago in response to PA 599 is still open and could be legally compromised by his participation. The bid is a request for proposals from companies to manage around 900 custody beds for Level IV inmates, which are above minimum security but just below maximum security.

According to the MDOC 2010 Annual Report, the average cost of annual incarceration for a Level IV inmate is $37,675. Proposals from private companies must present at least 10 percent savings to the state in order to be accepted. In other words, a private company would have to be able to house the inmates at an annual per person cost to the state less than or equal to $33,907.

Despite the demand for lower costs, Marlan said any proposal accepted by the MDOC would have to include the same level of educational and rehabilitative services offered by the state.

"It would have to provide all of the same services that we provide our Level IV prisoners," he said.

Marlan said there's nothing in the bid asking companies to use prisoners for labor.

"I doubt that they would because there’s some federal laws that go into prisoner labor—especially if you sell anything across the state line," he said.

The most obvious company that would be interested in the bid is the GEO Group, which already has a facility in Baldwin. Marlan said other companies have been offered use of MDOC's correctional facility in Standish, which has been closed since 2009.

Kody Klein is an intern for Reach him at



Tue, Apr 16, 2013 : 1:13 p.m.

I agree that people should not be locked up for simply being stupid; but we seriously need the Supreme Court to rethink the definition of (unusual punishment). If our prisons where run more like those in Turkey or Mexico, we could have shorter sentences with much less recidivism.

Adam Betz

Fri, Apr 12, 2013 : 3:20 p.m.

It seems abundantly clear that the prison systems are tied in together with the local police agencies and the courts. They all feed off each other. It's a racket run by local, state and federal government offices against the very people they are supposed to be protecting. I don't think everyone is innocent, but too many people (drug offenders mainly) who are behind bars don't belong there. I strongly believe this is the reason we'll never legalize marijuana and other drugs as the War on Drugs keeps this racket well funded and gives cause to put people behind bars for victimless crimes. Government gone awry at every's legalized corruption and sadly accepted by the American people too often.


Fri, Apr 12, 2013 : 12:25 p.m.

Children's Services in Michigan has been largely privatized since the Reagan years. During this time, quality of services has been significantly reduced. Each private organization adds an additional layer of administration. The people who are working directly with children are severely underpaid and leave quickly. These people are not adequately trained/educated for their jobs. Many families and children suffer because of this. Privatizing the prisons will add to this mess. Children often go from foster care to prison. Privatization sets up a system of incarceration from the cradle to the grave.


Fri, Apr 12, 2013 : 11:15 a.m.

I think it's great that prisoners have the opportunity to get vocational and employment skills training. I'm wondering who's going to hire these felons?


Sat, Apr 13, 2013 : 11:27 p.m.

No one will hire them for a higher paying job. Thats why there is a push to remove the "Have you ever been convicted of a felony" checkbox from job applications. So employers can't ask. There are many other prisoner jobs in the prison providing training besides what are listed above. These people can find jobs if they try. Most of them dont want to work their way from the bottom up. I feel we should keep the checkboxes.


Fri, Apr 12, 2013 : 12:20 p.m.

There's not a huge market for people who know how to make license plates and road signs. It's all done in the prisons. To get certain funding, Habitat for Humanity is required to use prison built pre-fab "parts" for their housing. This reduces opportunities for small construction companies and use of free, volunteer labor in building the homes.


Fri, Apr 12, 2013 : 5:22 a.m.

First, glad to see that this forum is taking place at EMU and my hope is as many people in the surrounding communities will attend. Private Prisons are a PUBLIC DANGER. Think about it....who would want to promote the public safety against murders, rapists, child molesters and other violent criminals for $9.40 an hour without benefits? Would you? Our States' Correctional Officers are under-appreciated, over-worked and stressed. Not to say this job does not have a inherent amount of stress build-in but the attacks on our Men and Women in Gray and Black by Governor Rick Snyder and the Republicans in our State House and Senate are unprecedented. The core of these attacks are PROFITS directly to FOR-PROFIT Prison corporations such as GEO, Corrections Corporation of America and more. Former Republican Gov. John Engler INCREASED the size of State Prison Staff during this tenure as Michigan Chief Executive Officer. So one has to wonder what "campaign donations" have been passed to Snyder and Crew to have them REVERSE the former Republican platform of being "strong on law enforcement" manta. Today's Republicans have proposed (look it up on MLive) CUTTING the ENTIRE Juvenile Justice budget from the Department of Human Services Department. The point behind this is to sell Michigan's convicted Juveniles for pennies on the dollar to Corporate For-Profit Prison Industries. Since these Corporations make profit on juveniles COMING INTO the system, not GOING OUT....what does that say about our priorities as a State on rehabilitation of our youth? People need to TAKE NOTICE. This is a SERIOUS ISSUE that everyone who pays taxes in Michigan MUST to be involved within. Again, hope that you will take an hour or more out of your day to ATTEND this forum to learn what will happen to Michigan's Department of Corrections & Juvenile Justice System if the public does nothing to stop it.


Fri, Apr 12, 2013 : 4:44 a.m.

O.K. You Scavenger Vultures. Let me tell you this: It costs $30K a year to lock-up a prisoner. The Dept of Corrections is the Largest Dept of state gov; it employes more people than any other Dept of state govt. The Budget of the Dept of Corrections Exceeds all the money the state showers on All state colleges and universities. So here is what must be done: All prisoners with No substance abuse and No violence should be placed in Community Corrections ("half-way" houses). Placed there, they will earn their "room and board," or else be sent back to prison. Tough? Yep! But don't do the crime if you don't want to do the time . . .

Nate R.

Fri, Apr 12, 2013 : 5:16 p.m.

I think defining "substance abuse" would be tricky. Is someone in prison for nonviolent drug possession an "addict" who should stay in prison/jail?

Woman in Ypsilanti

Fri, Apr 12, 2013 : 3:03 p.m.

That sounds like a workable plan but only if we have the community mental health resources available to help with the large number of such offenders who are mentally ill.

Scott Reed

Fri, Apr 12, 2013 : 4:25 a.m.

The notion of a "private prison" is sickening - could you imagine an industry with a more perverse incentive? The more people in this country that are locked up (effectively enslaved), the more money companies like CCA make. Clearly their incentive is to keep as many people in prison for as long as possible, and preferably a greater proportion over time to fuel their growth. Just Awful.


Fri, Apr 12, 2013 : 3:17 a.m.

You GOTTA BE KIDDING ME. "USA Today reported last year that Corrections Corporations of America sent a $250 million proposal to 48 states, offering to buy state prisons if the states could guarantee a 90 percent occupancy rate for 20 years. " ????? That's so wrong I don't even know where to begin!!!!!! That's sick. Wrong. I'd like to see what Michigan's planning on doing to "guarantee" a nice, high prison occupancy rate! Is that what MI wants? To have a future that's nothing more than one big prison cell? Good luck with that. I'm moving outta this damn state the first chance I get. Next thing ya know you'll be facing a prison sentence for unpaid parking tickets or a bounced check. No thank you!!!

Jeremy F

Fri, Apr 12, 2013 : 2:50 a.m.

Agreed, Maria! Prisons are SUPPOSED to be state or government run facilities that keep dangerous criminals off of the streets, in order to protect citizens from harm. Now they've become the place where they lock up every Tom, Dick and Harry for breaking the law. No one should be in prison who hasn't committed a violent crime. Drug criminals? Send them off to work 12-hour community service shifts. Thieves? Send them into the pits of Detroit to do clean-up work. Thugs that commit petty crime? Put them in the Michigan National Guard with a tough boot camp. Are locking these guys up for decades to put a strain on our resources really the answer? And yes, if they've been model inmates, let 'em out on tether. Why not? Let their families feed and clothe them. Michigan citizens have it tough enough. Let everyone who has less than 2 years on out a tether. Let anyone over two years get good behavior time off of their sentence. Let non-violent offenders out with a strict community service program. There. You just reduced the prison inmate count by 10,0000. Oh, wait. Prison workers will protest because they don't have jobs. My bad. Keep 'em all in there and strain the rest of the state's citizens. At least MDOC workers will be happy.


Fri, Apr 12, 2013 : 2:37 a.m.

I can't believe the state keeps going round and round about this. Want to reduce prison budgets? Bring good time credit back! The prisons are overflowing, and there's no reason why they have to be. My fiance is on year 10 of a 13 year prison sentence from a heroin addiction he had in his 20s. He just turned 40 in prison. He's clean, sober, devoutly Christian and taking classes in prison while he waits to get out. Without a doubt, there's nothing that additional 3 years is going to do for him. Prison did what it was supposed to. It cleaned him up, punished him for his crimes, and now he's just waiting and living off of the taxpayer's dime. There are so many other inmates in there in the same situation. Michigan's sentences are far too harsh. 13 years for an extortion crime in which no one was physically hurt? It makes no sense whatsoever. He would even serve the rest of his prison sentence on a tether confined to our home. Heck, we'd even pay for it! At least if he's home he can work. He's got a huge support system, family to help him out, and a job waiting for him upon his release. Let some of these guys out so they can pay income taxes and sales taxes, rather than finding other ways to squeeze out a penny here or there in the $2.2 billion budget. It's not rocket science, and privatization will just create a more dangerous environment within the prisons. For once I'd like to see our state do the smart thing with regard to the correctional system!


Sat, Apr 13, 2013 : 11:10 p.m.

Most likely that one "extortion" crime isn't what caused the long sentence. It was just the last in a long list of offenses. Judges look at every arrest/offense a person has had if their life, aside from a sealed juvenile record. But I will agree that it would be a mistake to privatize the prisons. Their main interests would be to raise population and cut corners to reduce costs where ever possible. Which would include reducing staff and staff training which would create a safety threat for the staff and prisoners both.


Fri, Apr 12, 2013 : 9:37 a.m.

Maria, Amen. The prison system is an industry. And it does all it can to sustain itself.


Fri, Apr 12, 2013 : 12:56 a.m.

Nobody should be making a profit from someone else's jail sentence. Incarceration shouldn't be a business.


Fri, Apr 12, 2013 : 12:49 a.m.

As a public service, please publish together the day, date, and time of events like this in a prominent place in the article. Just saying "Saturday," leaves a reader to hunt around for a date to try and find out if this conference is coming up or already past, especially if the article is not seen on the day it appears. Make it easy for readers to find this information. Thanks.


Fri, Apr 12, 2013 : 8:03 p.m.

I agree with you glacialerratic. I found about this forum 3 weeks ago on fb accidentally looking at AACCJ communiy page.

Jaime Magiera

Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 11:02 p.m.

This event is needed. It's an important discussion we need to have about the future of Michigan.