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Baldwin prison could reopen with higher security level

Prison fence barbed wire
Kevin Rosseel
Michigan ranks fourth in the nation for prisoner rehabilitation

A private prison near Baldwin, Michigan could re-open, adding 150 jobs to the economy, under a bill sponsored by state Rep. Jon Bumstead, R-Newaygo. The prison operated from 1998 through 2005 as a private youth facility, and was open again briefly later housing inmates from California. It closed again in 2011. 

The bill increases the level of security of the facility, allowing more dangerous prisoners to be housed there. Florida-based GEO Group, which has operated the prison in the past, requires the law change in order to fulfill its contracts. The company plans to house out-of-state prisoners there.

Lake County Commissioner Dan Sloan says the area desperately needs the jobs. Half of the county is occupied by state or federal forest land, which does not generate tax revenue, and much of the county's rural population is aging and poor. The tax revenues the prison would bring in would help pay for services like schools, 911 service, and police patrols, Sloan says. 

Bumstead says GEO previously invested $120 million in the facility, which is now vacant, and the community is supportive of re-opening. 

"The whole community is on board. The commissioners are on board. If you’re talking 150 jobs off the bat, that’s a big deal for lake county," Bumstead says.

The prison would be "very safe," according to Bumstead, and released prisoners would be transported back to their home state, not released in Michigan. 

"I want to make sure everybody knows if it was a safety issue, it would be an issue for all of us. As it is now, the sheriff and all of the locals are on board and safety is not a concern," says Bumstead.