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Decline in prison population prompts closure of Northern Mich. facility

Prison fence. State auditors say Michigan prisons could have saved millions in prescription costs.
Simon Brass
Prison fence. State auditors say Michigan prisons could have saved millions in prescription costs.

Michigan is closing one of its 32 prisons to save $22 million in the next fiscal year.

The Pugsley Correctional Facility in Grand Traverse County will close in September. The minimum security prison has more than 1,300 beds and 230 employees. It’s been open since 1956.

The corrections department made the announcement Tuesday, a day before a legislative committee is expected to endorse the closure in the next state budget.

Corrections Director Heidi Washington says it is a "difficult day" for the staff at Pugsley, but closing a prison is the result of hard work to reduce Michigan's prison population. It is under 42,000 for the first time in nearly two decades after peaking at 51,554 in 2007.

State Senator Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, says he was “completely surprised” by the move, which he called “devastating news” for his region.

“The savings that supposedly the state is having is miniscule versus the economic impact (on the region),” Schmidt said.

The department says it will try to move Pugsley employees into other vacancies in the agency.

Schmidt worries that could have a negative impact for enrollment in public schools, real estate values, even area hospitals.

Schmidt says he understands the need to close prisons, but he says prison closures downstate are easier for local economies to handle. He says he’ll make the case to fellow lawmakers to keep Pugsley open, since the state budget is not yet finalized.

“Pugsley Correctional does an excellent job of rehabilitation and the staff is very dedicated so of course I’m going to fight for them … you bet,” he said.

Michigan Department of Corrections has closed and consolidated more than 25 facilities and camps since 2005. MDOC says that’s “resulted in more than $370 million in budget reductions.”

“This closure will provide the maximum savings possible to taxpayers,” DOC Director Heidi Washington said in a written statement.

The MDOC looks at a variety of factors when choosing a facility for closure. Those include the age of the facility; cost to operate; need for renovations and improvements; bed space vacancies by custody level and staff impact.
No single factor was the determinate factor when making this decision, but based on weighing all of the criteria above, Pugsley was chosen for closure.

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Radio’s Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
The Associated Press is an independent global news organization dedicated to factual reporting.
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