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Private prison hiring staff, drawing residents to northern Michigan community

Dean Page

North Lake Correctional Facility, in northern Michigan, is gearing up to accept federal inmates this fall. And one local official says the rural community is already seeing the economic benefits.

“It's incredible. I don't believe you would have any luck at all finding a house to rent within five to ten miles of the prison,” said Karl Walls, who represents Baldwin on the Lake County Commission.

The 1,700-inmate prison is owned by Geo Group, based in Florida. It has a 10-year contract to house non-U.S. citizens with federal criminal convictions.

Balls says there's been a lot of activity as the prison hires staff, and he expects that to continue.

"Everybody that has a gas station or a party store or a restaurant is gonna benefit,” Walls said. “And then we'll see this slowly over the years, as people get more confident that that job is gonna be there and secure, we'll see the buildings go up, we'll see property bought and sold."

The prison has opened and closed twice in the last couple decades, and Walls says he expects it will take time for people to feel secure enough to buy property and build homes.

It operated as a private prison for young offenders, and later held California prisoners, until it last closed in 2011.

Sarah Hulett is Michigan Public's Director of Amplify & Longform, helping reporters to do their best work.
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