Study: Camp Kitwin not viable option for Houghton County jail

HOUGHTON — In a 2009-10 study of its criminal justice facilities, the Houghton County Justice Center Study Committee found that converting the former Camp Kitwin into a county jail would not be feasible for numerous reasons.

Michigan state law requires that both the Sheriff’s Office and the District Court must be located in the county seat, which is Houghton. Camp Kitwin is in Painesdale.

Separating the jail from the Sheriff’s Office and the District Court would add more staffing and transportation costs and create potential risks to the public while doing nothing to alleviate the problems at the 53-year-old Sheriff’s Office and the District Court facilities.

The report infers that while the conversion of Kitwin to a county jail would relieve the shortage of inmate beds at the existing jail, it would incur costs of about $5 million to make the conversion.

After that cost, a jail at Kitwin still leave the county in need of a new District Court facility and modernization and upgrades to the Sheriff’s Office.

The committee report stated that the present courtroom is approximately a third the size of modern standards. The courtroom is often standing-room-only, and defendants, defense attorneys and prosecuting attorneys share one table.

In addition, the jury box and the judge’s bench are not handicap-accessible and in non-compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

The committee also found hallway congestion creates potential safety concerns, and there is complete lack of privacy. Because of lack of available space, workflow of the court personnel is severely restricted.

The site studied expanding the work camp at the airport into a new jail, but for similar reasons, found that option not feasible.

In considering many options, the study committee arrived at the conclusion that the most viable solution to all the problems confronting the county’s criminal justice facilities would be to construct one county justice center which would house the jail, the Sheriff’s Office and the District Court.

The 2010 report estimated the total cost of such a facility as then designed would cost $15 million and would meet the needs of the county until at least 2040.