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Macomb sheriff pitches millage proposal for new jail

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

Macomb County urgently needs a new jail and voters should get to decide the matter, County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham told county commissioners on Wednesday.

He’s urging commissioners to approve ballot language that would put a 20-year millage proposal for a new, $371 million jail project on the November 2019 ballot.

Wickersham said the current jail is old, prone to overcrowding, and not set up to meet the needs of the current inmate population, many of whom have substance abuse problems or mental health issues.

“It’s falling apart. I mean, we have glass tiles falling off second floors in inmate housing,” Wickersham said.

“We’re still using parts that were built in 1956. We’re spending good money just to keep the facility open. And we’ve done our due diligence.”

The proposed new facility would sit within the footprint of the current jail in Mount Clemens. It would have 1,518 beds, slightly more than the current facility. Plans call for it to have a full on-site health clinic with skilled nursing staff, something officials hope will reduce hospital trips and also cut costs. It also calls for 250 beds for people with acute physical and mental health needs, and a central booking and assessment facility that will connect inmates to pre-trial services in hopes of diverting more low-risk inmates from jail.

The plan also calls for about $9 million in additional staff, which would be covered by part of the millage. And a new, more open layout would allow for what jail experts call more “direct supervision” of inmates, something experts said should reduce the number of assaults and otherwise promote staff and inmate safety.

All the county commissioners agreed that Macomb County needs a new jail, but some expressed reservations about taking the issue to voters. Wickersham, however, says that’s exactly who needs to decide.

“We all know we have a problem here,” said Wickersham, who alluded to “lawsuits” over a number of inmate deaths that have taken place in the jail over the past few years. “I will take ownership of this project. But let the citizens decide.”

Commissioners also reviewed proposed ballot language for the millage. They plan to vote on whether to approve the ballot proposal next month.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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