Village official: Local economy needs private prison to survive

Michigan

WEBBER TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — One of President Joe Biden’s latest executive orders looks to phase out privately owned prisons, including North Lake Correctional Facility in Lake County.

The order instructs the U.S. Department of Justice not to renew contracts with for-profit prisons as advocates say privately owned prisons have contributed to an increase in incarceration rates and have treated inmates poorly.

“This is the first step to stop corporations from profiting off of incarceration that is less humane and less safe as studies show,” Biden said during a press conference Tuesday.

Officials in the Lake County area are defending the privately owned prison facility, expressing concerns that terminating the contract would be detrimental to the local economy.

Village of Baldwin President Jim Truxton praised GEO Group, the private company that owns the prison, for all its done for the area.

“I can’t speak to the private prison industry as a whole, but I can tell you this facility is very safe. I’ve heard of none of my friends and acquaintances complain that they feel they’re in danger,” Truxton said.

Under GEO Group’s ownership, the federal detention facility located just outside Baldwin employs more than 300 people and pays more than a million dollars a year in local taxes.

The facility, which houses non-U.S. citizens convicted of federal crimes, is currently operating under a 10-year contract between GEO Group and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The agreement is set to expire in 2029.

Though, sources with knowledge of the agreement told News 8 the contract is up for review in 2022, at which time it could be terminated.

Over the years, the correctional facility has gone in and out of use. Truxton says the local economy has come to rely on the prison being operational.

“We’ve been down this road now for the third time. We know what happens when they’re not open (and) not employing over 300 people,” Truxton said.

GEO Group provided News 8 the following statement in response to Biden’s executive order:

“Today’s Executive Order is a solution in search of a problem. For more than three decades, our company has provided high-quality services under a private-public partnership with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. During this timeframe, our facilities, which are newer and more modern than the generally older government-run prisons, have helped the BOP meet the significant overcrowding challenges facing the federal prison system. Our facilities have almost exclusively housed non-citizen criminal aliens convicted of federal crimes, thus allowing government-run facilities to care for U.S. citizens without significant overcrowding challenges. 

Given the recent decline in federal prison populations, in part due to the COVID pandemic, the BOP had already announced steps over the last four months to not renew expiring contracts with private sector operators. Given the steps the BOP had already announced, today’s Executive Order merely represents a political statement, which could carry serious negative unintended consequences, including the loss of hundreds of jobs and negative economic impact for the communities where our facilities are located, which are already struggling economically due to the COVID pandemic. Additionally, limiting the federal government’s options to deal with potential overcrowding challenges in the future could result in worsening and unsafe conditions for the men and women in federal custody.”

Statement from GEO Group

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