2018-05-10 / Front Page

TO BUILD OR NOT TO BUILD?

COUNTY COMMISSIONERS CONSIDER JAIL FEASIBILITY STUDY

MANISTIQUE – At 61 years old, the Schoolcraft County Jail has staggered beyond its life expectancy – slowing deteriorating and catching the eye of the Michigan Department of Corrections, which is looking to shut it down. As the threat of closure looms, the Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners has been tasked with finding a solution for the jail.

On Tuesday, commissioners held a special meeting for a Jail Feasibility Study presentation. The study was created by Byce and Associates, an engineering and architecture firm out of Kalamazoo, Mich., and addressed: architectural space programming, design options, staffing and operating cost analysis, mental health diversion unit, courthouse holding, and the cost of doing nothing (housing inmates elsewhere). It highlighted four construction options and two additional options as alternatives.

The current jail was built in 1957 as a home for the sheriff and a small lock-up. From there, additions were built, leading to the facility existing today. The jail has 24 beds – down from 28 after the MDOC eliminated four beds following an inspection last year.

Prior to Tuesday’s presentation commencing, Schoolcraft County Sheriff Paul Furman addressed commissioners and the public.

“This jail will be closed – it can’t stay open,” he explained. “We need another jail. There’s been some studies done over the last 10 years and it’s always the fact we need a jail, but we never got it.”

Furman noted that the jail is more than just a place to house inmates – it works with the court system to provide programming.

“Drug court, mental health court … all of this revolves around the jail being accessible to the other courts,” he said. “If it shut down now … I don’t know where we’re going to end up going.”

Manistique Public Safety Department Director Ken Golat also addressed the audience.

“This is a public safety issue, not just Manistique Public Safety, but it affects the safety of the public,” he said. “If jail services are outsourced to other counties we will lose deputies … these are the same staff who provide road patrol, marine patrol, ORV patrol, snow machine patrol, and search and rescue services.

We have a very effective law enforcement team now – much different from in the past,” Golat continued, noting that the area’s primary law enforcement remains MPSD and the sheriff’s department, since the Michigan State Police, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and Sault Tribe Police have different mandates and are limited in their local service by budgetary restrictions. “Public safety of our community is not cheap – my opinion is the county has a responsibility to provide this, a full time sheriff’s department and a jail.”

He added that the majority of other Upper Peninsula counties have a sheriff’s department and jail, as well as strong support from the community.

“What about us?” Golat asked. “Schoolcraft County is a very large, important tourist base, and is on the verge of economic growth … consider the trickle down effects – the loss of this jail and jobs – we will lose additional jobs and business in our community. Businesses that sell food, linen supplies, household supplies, hardware supplies, auto parts, motels and restaurants and additional business sales to persons who come to this county to visit their prisoners in jail, health care, dental care, emergency room services, mental health services – all will suffer.”

Golat also asked the audience to consider the inmates and their families.

“We have a responsibility to them – most of them are the product of our community,” he said. “Is it productive for us, and their rehabilitation, to ship them out of town to correct them and leave this to someone else?”

The relationship between the local sheriff’s department staff and inmates is important, Golat noted.

“They have to live in jail with them, and they have to live out of jail with them,” he explained. “The local sheriff elected by the people and his deputies live here – they care … I fear that the importance of this positive effect – not visible in dollars – may not ever be known.”

Securitecture Principal Joseph Mrak presented the jail feasibility study. He began by pointing out that this isn’t the first time the jail has been studied in the past decade.

“What we’re doing here in the feasibility study is kind of the culmination of all this and looking at it as a holistic idea – what are our options for a jail and what is the option if we don’t have a jail?” Mrak said.

The firm began by looking at the “architectural program”, or space needs, of the jail.

“You need a jail/sheriff’s office of about 21,000 square feet,” he said. “Which is more than double the size of your existing facility.”

Mrak noted that this jail size would accommodate the need today and into the near future, and that the needs could be reassessed after a 20-year term bond and/or millage.

“Then we looked at multiple design options,” he said. “We had one design option that looked at the courthouse – building a new jail on the courthouse square and tearing down the existing jail … we looked at three options at the armory … and then, toward the end, we did take another look at Camp Manistique just to confirm or maybe try to see if there are any additional ideas over and above what was mentioned before (in past studies).”

Mrak pointed out that the cost of the jail is covered in the performance criteria/security scenarios and typical finish schedule sections of the report.

“Jails aren’t cheap, but, why does this jail cost what it does? Well, it’s because it’s built out of these kind of materials, has this kind of electronic systems in it, has this many cells with these kind of doors – things like that,” he said. “It’s basic specifications of what’s included in this.”

The study also included a staffing and operational cost analysis.

“One of the things is that one day, your jail will be paid off, however, the cost to staff and operate it goes on forever,” Mrak said. “So it’s really important that the board knows what it costs to operate this facility.”

He noted that it should be a consideration of the board that the MDOC and the Michigan Municipal Risk Management Association will review the staffing and approve it before the county is allowed to open a jail.

The creation of a mental health diversion unit was considered and applied as a possible addition to any of the new jail options, Mrak explained.

“The state of Michigan is attempting to develop regional facilities for some of the people who end up in your jail and have mental health issues,” he said. “We looked at that … and there’s grant money out there available to do that.”

Since an off-site jail would equate to inmate transport, Mrak explained that the study also included the creation of courthouse inmate holding unit and vehicular sally port.

“Right now, your jail is right next to the courthouse, so it’s easy to move prisoners across the parking lot to the courthouse and bring them to court,” he said.

The study also weighed the possibility of the county taking no action, allowing the jail to close, providing only a lock-up facility, and transporting inmates to other facilities.

“That’s always an option, but I have to tell you – it’s a really lousy option,” Mrak said. “First of all, where are you going to take these people? Every other county has the same kind of problems you have.

The cost of doing nothing – you look at transportation costs, your deputies now become transportation officers, so they’re not on the street patrolling, they’re driving inmates around all over,” he continued. “The 20-year cost to house prisoners outside of Schoolcraft County is $31 million … so, all of a sudden, it kind of makes a jail sound kind of inexpensive in comparison.”

In Option A, construction a new jail, Mrak noted they made it the “gold standard” and that there is a substantial size difference.

“The reason the new jail is so much bigger than the existing jail is your existing jail doesn’t comply with any of the state of Michigan Department of Corrections standards – that’s why it’s at risk of being closed,” he explained. “It’s in very poor condition, it’s worn out … and it doesn’t meet any of the current standards. So a facility that meets the current standards is much larger.”

The new jail would be 20,976 square feet, have a maximum capacity of 62 beds, and allow for additional expansion. The total project cost is approximately $10.5 million.

In Options B, C, and D, the study assessed using the existing former armory building, located adjacent to Manistique’s Central Park. Each option has a different configuration and price tag: Option B is 20,067 square feet, has a maximum capacity of 54 beds, and costs approximately $9.2 million; Option C is 18,941 square feet, has a maximum capacity of 56 beds, and costs approximately $8.7 million; and Option D is 18,641 square feet, has a maximum capacity of 56 beds, and is approximately $7.1 million.

“The nice thing about the armory building … we’ve got plenty of land for future expansion,” Mrak said.

He noted that in Option D, the construction materials will be different.

“In the previous options, we’re using some modular construction – modular steel cells,” Mrak explained. “We’re building all the cells in this particular option out of masonry … using more local labor and things like that actually reduced the cost of the building. And then we changed some of the design options, all the electronics and so forth.”

In the study, staffing and operational costs are calculated.

“It’s a 24 hour a day operation, 365 days a year – the jail is always open,” Mrak said, adding this wears on building maintenance and employee costs. “We recommended adding three (employees) … you might be able to staff these jails with the same staff you have now, if the DOC allows you to do it.

If you go with the armory site, because the jail is remote from the courthouse, you’re going to be doing more transports, which means you’re taking more people out of the jail who might be a corrections officer and making them babysitters and making them transport officers and things like that going back and forth to the court.”

Adding in these three additional employees and other expenses associated with a new, larger jail, the study proposes an operating budget of approximately $1.2 million per year. This compared with the 2018 (current) operating budget of approximately $983,000.

“Your building is more than twice as big, so your utility costs are going to about double,” Mrak said. “You have twice as many inmates in here, too, so expenses like medical expenses, food expenses, things like that, have been increased by 50 percent.”

To add a mental health diversion unit, which would be the first in the Upper Peninsula, the cost is estimated to be approximately $1.2 million, Mrak explained.

“The idea of mental health diversion … is that a lot of people with mental health issues commit crimes, but the crime is a symptom of the problem, not the problem,” he said. “Instead of booking them into the jail, which, when that happens, all insurance and all funding that follows their care goes and becomes the responsibility of the county, so county taxpayers take up all their care expenses. If you can divert them into a mental health unit in the jail or attached to the jail, whatever insurance, whatever health coverage they have, follows them over there.”

Mrak added that there grants available to cover the cost of the construction of a mental health diversion unit.

“I’m assuming there’s other grant monies available also for the operation of it,” he said.

If the jail is constructed off-site, such as at the armory, a small facility, including a garage, will need to be constructed at the courthouse. Mrak said this is estimated to cost approximately $822,000.

“Rather than doing that, maybe the existing jail stays … $50,000, $100,000 is spent on renovating the building and you could hold prisoners in there for a short term,” he explained. “It doesn’t meet the standards for a jail, but you can make it meet the standards for short-term holding.”

As far as deciding to not have a jail in Schoolcraft County, Mrak said this isn’t a “very good option.”

“You will still have to keep that jail open,” he explained, adding that there will need to be a place to hold inmates for up to 72 hours. “You got to have a place to bring them to when you arrest them.”

Mrak pointed out the county would be dependent on other counties to house their prisoners and be responsible for the transportation of these prisoners to and from court hearings. Calculating employee, travel, vehicle, and vehicle maintenance costs, he said the annual cost of having a holding facility would be approximately $970,000.

While the study did address the possible use of the former Camp Manistique prison facility, Mrak said the option is not reasonable.

“Camp Manistique is 36,000 square feet,” he explained. “The problem with the bigger building … is even though you’re not using the space now, you still have to bring it up to current code to allow it to stay empty … the building has been allowed to deteriorate … so a lot of the systems in there are going to have to be replaced.”

Mrak noted that the project cost for converting Camp Manistique is approximately $9.6 million.

Mrak said timelines for any armory conversion would be approximately 12 months, while the construction of a new jail at the courthouse would be approximately 17-19 months, due to the phasing required.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, area resident KayDean Zellar expressed concern about housing inmates in Alger County and having inmates attend court there with the shared 93rd District Court and 11th Judicial Circuit Court judges.

“If that was to happen, wouldn’t that also cut the employees at the Schoolcraft County Courthouse, too?” she asked.

Paul Walker, Manistique City Council member, pointed out that the county needs to give law enforcement the “effective tools” to perform their duties.

“A new jail is an effective tool to do their job,” he said. “We expect our law enforcement community to clean up the drugs … building a jail is absolutely imperative.”

Mike Perilloux, current mayor of Manistique, noted that the decision to build or not build a jail will be up to the voters.

“We need the money, we need the funds, I implore the board to take this information … and get it out to those members of the public that do not have that information,” he said. “It has to be marketed properly.”

To view the full jail feasibility study, visit www.schoolcraftcounty.net and click the “Jail Feasibility Study for Schoolcraft County”. The study will also be available at www.pioneertribune.com.

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