Study reported risk of substandard jail

Graham Jaehnig/Daily Mining Gazette The Houghton County Jail has become consistantly overcrowded, prompting Sheriff Brian McLean to invoke an emergency jail overcrowding act.

HOUGHTON — The Houghton County Justice Center Study Committee released a 39-page report detailing its findings regarding the county jail system and the 97th District Court. Its conclusion was stark and to the point.

“Failure to construct a replacement for the Houghton County Jail, and to provide adequate facilities for the 97th District Court operations is likely to subject Houghton County to greatly increased risks of civil and legislative liability,” the report states.

The study’s findings included:

•Virtually nothing at the jail concerning staff and inmate safety, legal affairs, or rehabilitation met current (2010) standards and requirements.

•Lack of visual contact between guards and inmates, and lack of control.

•Lack of privacy for visitors and attorneys.

•Lack of space for activities and education.

•Difficulty in segregating maximum and minimum security inmates.

•Frequent plumbing, wiring, mechanical and air ventilation problems.

•Lack of adequate fire control system.

•Lack of adequate number and mix of beds to meet current and future needs.

•Not compliant with legal and ethical standards.

In a July interview, Sheriff Brian McLean said at jails he visited there is “an activity room where cell by cell, or multiple cells, can be let out and down to like a library, or a training area, or places like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), and cognitive behavior, mental health — more than just warehousing people.”

McLean said while the facility has a fair amount of volunteers, the size and design of the jail precludes effective use of them.

“We used to have teachers come in and teach GED, but in the main corridor, at the main picnic table there, there’s just no concentration there for them. If they agree to go to the work camp, we’ve allowed GED to be taught up there, McLean said. “I mean, the whole idea is to have a better citizen, and we all have a responsibility for that.”