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Wayne County rules out Mound Correctional for its next jail

The unfinished Wayne County jail near Gratiot Ave. in Detroit.
Wayne County

Wayne County commissioners voted Thursday to reject one option for the next jail:  moving the courts and the jail to the former Mound Correctional Facility.

Commissioner Richard LeBlanc says the $750 million price tag was far too high.

But LeBlanc doesn't like any of the remaining options either.

That includes the one favored by many of his fellow commissioners:  restarting the halted jail construction project at Gratiot in downtown.

"Each of the choices that have been offered thus far are bad," LeBlanc tells Michigan Radio. "I do not favor completion of the Gratiot site based upon the information we have today, but that's the direction the ship is being steered."

Construction on the  Gratiot jail was stopped when it went severely over budget.  Several people involved in the project face criminal charges.

LeBlanc says he is skeptical that the new estimate for completion - $370.5 million - is accurate.  And he says originally, the plan was to consolidate both the county's jails into the new jail.

The new estimate is based on a smaller scale project at Gratiot, he says, which means the Hamtramck jail will have to remain open.

But Commissioner Kevin McNamara says the county has already spent $150 million on the Gratiot site, and that's too much money to walk away from.

Critics, including businessman and Detroit booster Dan Gilbert, don't like the Gratiot jail's location, saying it's a bad way to greet visitors to the city. 

But McNamara says the jail would only take up about 5% of the city's downtown.

And he says it would include a walkable community for visiting families, attorneys and others associated with the court system.

McNamara says trying to maintain the current, nearly 100-year-old jail is not an option.  "Imagine the wild west, where the sheriff has to walk down a long hall, unlocking door after door with a big key ring.  It's  like that."

McNamara says because of its antiquated design, the jail requires a  sheriff-to-prisoner ratio of about one to six. 

The new prison's design will enable a far more desirable ratio of one sheriff to nearly 65 prisoners.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.