State, county officials saw jail overcrowding coming

Daily Mining Gazette/Graham Jaehnig A stack of chairs and a typical mattress pad used by inmates in the Houghton County Jail rest near the public inmate area, which is just outside the female inmates section of the jail. In the background, is the control booth, state-of-the-art, 50 years ago. Today, the guard’s view of the cell area is obstructed by computer monitoring screens.

HOUGHTON — On Feb. 21, Houghton County Sheriff Brian McLean invoked Michigan’s Jail Overcrowding Emergency Powers Act due to chronic overcrowding of the county jail, but state and county officials have known for years the overcrowding of the facility would reach a critical point.

In 2010, the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) released the U.P. Regional Jail and Facility Re-Use Study. The 1,106 page document was the result of a two-year study that examined jails throughout the 15 counties of the Upper Peninsula and whether regional jails would be more feasible than county jails. The study also studied jail trends, the rising increase of jail terms and other data.

At the same time, the Houghton County Board formed a broad-based Jail committee in September 2009. The committee was to conduct a study of the current county jail and court facilities and recommend needed changes, including:

•what was needed to ensure Houghton County’s criminal justice facilities meet current laws and regulations;

•if new facilities were necessary, what would be needed; and

•where should the new facility be located.

The committee, composed of citizens and officials from throughout Houghton County, was assisted by expert consultants. In November 2010, the committee released its report of the .

The Justice Center Study Committee studied the main jail and sheriff’s office, work camp near the airport and also the conditions, situations and concerns of the 97th District Court facilities.

The committee also investigated and reviewed a broad range of options, which were included in the report.

The committee, like the MDOC, looked at Camp Kitwin as an alternative, and also rejected it for many reasons, including legal grounds.

The next part of this series will review the findings of both reports.