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Follow-up report finds lingering issues at Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility

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Photographer: Dwight Burdette
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Wikimedia Commons

Three problems observed in past state audits of Michigan’s only women’s prison are still present.

That’s according to a follow-up report on the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility. It raised questions over the thoroughness of searches of cells, inmates, and employees entering the prison.

The Office of the Auditor General first observed the issues in 2017. During its follow up, the report noted video review of a portion of cell searches didn’t line up with what officers had written down.

“Surveillance video did not support 4 (24%) of the 17 cell searches we selected for review from those documented in the housing unit logbooks. Also, the surveillance video documented officers conducted the remaining 13 cell searches in 4 seconds to 95 seconds, raising concerns regarding the thoroughness of the searches or whether the searches occurred,” the follow-up read.

Chris Gautz is a spokesperson with the Michigan Department of Corrections. He said the state auditor general’s findings are not indicative of widespread trouble.

“When you do thousands or tens of thousands of something every year, when someone comes in and spot checks at random, a small number of them, you could potentially find issues. It could’ve been, if they picked a different random sample, there might have been no issues found,” Gautz said.

In general, Gautz said searches are typically done “above and beyond.”

“In this particular case, they happened to find there were things that needed corrective action. We have taken that, we agreed with the findings, we reviewed what they found when they looked through old video and old logs just to see, and this is how it’s supposed to work,” he said.

Another condition, noted in 2020, raised concerns over how often prisoners with chronic medical conditions were receiving assessments. Some of those inmates, however, had been seen for other issues.

In its preliminary response, the corrections department mentioned it will be implementing more training and a new monitoring process to make sure scheduling gets done more efficiently.

A fourth issue from the past involved access to potentially dangerous tools. The state auditor declared those concerns had been addressed.

State Sen. Jeff Irwin helped request the follow-up. He said he hopes the report will refocus the Department of Corrections on fixing some of the findings -- as well as making broader changes that he feels are necessary within the agency.

“I think the legislature’s role in that is to provide oversight and to continue the conversation over how to improve conditions inside, but also to make some policy changes that might reduce the mass incarceration we have in Michigan that makes it more difficult,” Irwin said.

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