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Lawmakers grill prison officials over women's prison

prison cell for two people
Katie Raymond
/
Michigan Radio
Huron Valley Women's Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti

Michigan lawmakers questioned state Department of Corrections officials Tuesday over persistent problems at the state’s only women’s prison.

An audit in 2017 was the first time the state noted problems with adequately searching cells, prisoners, and employees at the Women's Huron Valley Correctional Facility.

A recent follow-up audit found the corrections department had not fully solved the problems.

Republican Senate Oversight Committee Chair Ed McBroom (R-Waucedah Twp) said he’s disappointed to see continuing issues with searches.

“They’re just going to have to make sure that that is done better. And whether the department needs to come and ask us for new resources or new programming or just has to step up its work training … more attention’s got to be focused on that,” McBroom said after Tuesday’s oversight hearing.

The report details how, though progress was made since 2017, security camera footage didn’t match up with the sample of cell search logs reviewed during the follow-up inspection.

“Also, we noted the cell searches reviewed were conducted in a minute and a half or less, raising concerns of effectiveness and thoroughness of searches,” audit supervisor Melanie Rae Marks said during the hearing.

A second finding found less improvement with regards to searching employees entering the facility.

Corrections department Legislative Liaison Kyle Kaminski said the department agreed with the findings, but noted issues occurred at a lower rate this time around.

“Really key for us, though, is we think these first two findings around cell and staff searches really point to the need for continued mentoring and training for our staff. These are tasks that are being carried out by front-line staff,” Kaminski said.

During the hearing, many lawmakers focused on the potential for contraband to enter the facility and the danger that could pose.

Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) asked if the department felt it had enough tools to adequately evaluate data to identify patterns and respond.

Kaminski said the department does collect and use data for figuring out where to put additional resources. But he said though the department has the data, it's "crunching it manually." The next step, Kaminski said, would be having systems that help staff analyze the data.

Outside of searches, the report found issues with prisoners with chronic health conditions receiving assessments in a timely manner. Those had been observed during a June 2020 audit. Kaminski pointed to the extra COVID-19-related stress on the prison’s health system at the time of observation. He mentioned half of the observed patients that were late for a follow-up still saw medical staff for unrelated issues.

A fourth concern, from 2017, dealt with improper access to tools. Auditors found that issue had been addressed.