Aug 13, 2009
Standish Correctional Facility could be home to Guantanamo Bay detainees
LANSING – A bipartisan coalition of State Representatives told the Judiciary Subcommittee on Corrections Reform on Wednesday that they would accept out-of-state inmates and Guantanamo Bay prisoners at the soon-to-be-closed Standish Maximum Correctional Facility to save jobs.
The committee was holding hearings on the Interstate Corrections Compact, and the prison in northeast Michigan was the hot topic. Federal officials are scheduled to tour the prison in Standish this week as a potential place for Guantanamo Bay detainees, and both Pennsylvania and California are considering Michigan as a home for its overcrowded inmate population.
Michigan’s incarceration rate is the 2nd highest in the 12-state Midwest region, and in order to balance the state budget, Michigan is looking for alternatives to the expensive practice of housing non-violent and older prisoners. This has led to some prisons and camps being closed, and Standish is on the chopping block,. The prison accounts for as much as 25 percent of the local budget, and housing out-of-state prisoners with someone else paying for them would save Michigan jobs.
Accepting the out-of-state prisoners is a no-brainer, but accepting the Gitmo detainees has been met with mixed reaction. Accepting suspect terrorists on mainland U.S. soil has some people concerned, but officials down played that because the detainees have not been convicted, and they are no more dangerous than some of the murderers that are in the prison system now. There also has never been an escape from the prison.
“They are no more dangerous than the Bloods or Crips in California,” said Rep. Joel Sheltrown, D-West Branch. “I don’t think there will ever be an escape, no matter who is housed there.”
Sheltrown, a Vietnam Vet, compared the prison to the job done by Vietnamese guards, but he said the prison guards at Standish are professional and well-trained
“There were no escapes at the Hanoi Hilton, and if they can do it, so can we,” he said.
The other problem with the Gitmo detainees is that the prison will be most likely be run by the Department of Defense, and that may not save many prison guard jobs because the guards most likely would be federal employees or even military. However, the auxiliary jobs like cooks and maintenance would stay, and they would also purchase supplies on the local market. There is also expected to be some building, and any prison would need a federal courtroom on site.
“That would still be a huge economic benefit to the community,” said Rep. Tim Moore, R-Farwell. “The prison accounts for 20-25 percent of the local budget.”
Lawmakers are concerned that there are no solid details on how Gitmo detainees would be housed, and they also want assurances that the area will be safe before making a final decision if they are chosen. Some residents have raised the possibility that the prison could be a terrorist target if it were to house Gitmo detainees.
All said there are a lot of variables involved in accepting Gitmo detainees, but their primary concerns are the safety of the community and jobs, not the politics of the situation.
“The anxiety and uncertainty of the employees and their families is first and foremost in my mind,” said Rep. Jeff Mayes, D-Bay City. “The political question is best left at a higher pay grade than mine.”