Kitwin not viable for reuse as county jail

HOUGHTON — A 2010 study by the Michigan Department of Corrections on regional jail and facility re-use examined the feasibility of converting Camp Kitwin, near Painesdale, to a jail. Examination of the facility found several costly shortcomings.

While the facility had been offered to the county for use as a jail by the MDOC, the state would retain ownership of the property, reserving the right to reclaim it in the future. Studies concluded that renovations and new construction required to make the facility suitable for the use as a jail and a sheriff’s office include:

• Creation of more administrative space to house the Sheriff’s Department operations.

•Construction of space for separate housing of female prisoners.

•Construction of maximum, medium, and minimum security cells.

•Construction of a detoxification cell.

Another major drawback is Camp Kitwen has a self-contained sewage system that requires certified personnel to maintain it, the MDOC report states. It also has a heating system that requires a minimum of 500 cords of wood annually.

Adding to the issues of Kitwin as a jail is that by state law, the sheriff’s office must be located within the boundaries of the county seat. In the case of Houghton County, that would be within the city of Houghton, a situation that was studied by the Houghton County Justice Center Study Committee.

Separating the jail from the court and sheriff’s office would greatly increase long-term staffing needs (approximately $6 million over 30 years in constant dollars), the committee report pointed out. The report also point to the fact that transporting inmates to and from court between Painesdale and Houghton would increase avoidable public risk, and would do nothing to solve the problems at the Sheriff’s Office and the District Court, which the committee also studied.

Kitwin was given a close look by the state because Houghton County voters consistently refused to pay for a new jail facility.

“Officials have tried, so far without success, to secure voter approval for a new jail,” the report stated. The county commissioned several studies of the current jail and future options.

Houghton County participated in the National Institute of Correction (NIC) Planning of New Institutions (PONI) program, starting with a “Local System Assessment” provided by NIC consultants in 1998, the MDOC reports states.

A follow-up event was provided in 2001. The PONI program underscored the importance of jail planning–specifically “total systems planning” to avoid costly mistakes in the planning and design process.