Why Camp Kitwen will still not work as a jail site for county

We continue to see letters asking one simple question: “Why can’t Houghton County use Camp Kitwen as its jail site?”

With the failure of the county’s attempt for funds to build an expensive addition to the current court house to improve the jail conditions in 2018, it has needed to do a large amount of soul searching before putting a new recommendation back in front of voters.

One of the first steps in this search was the formation of the Houghton County Jail Task Force. The task force announced that they had voted on Camp Kitwen, which sits in Adams Township.

The task force consulted with U.P. Engineers and Architects prior to the decision, doing a full cost analysis of the location. While the cost estimates suggested that a renovation of Kitwen would be the cheapest of the options being considered, they voted against that location.

In discussing their reasoning, the task force first pointed out that while the renovations were the cheapest of the four locations they were considering, there would be further costs in making Kitwen into a single central command center, which would not be conducive to a direct supervision facility.

Kitwen is located eight miles from Houghton in Adams Township. A Michigan Constitution mandate from 1963 makes it clear that the county sheriff “shall hold its principal office in the county seat,” which is Houghton. Placing the jail at the current site of Kitwen violates this mandate.

If the jail was to placed at Kitwen, it would be separated from the sheriff’s office. The sheriff’s office plays a vital role with the jail in that it supports the jail in instances of issues such as disturbances, fights, medical issues, and more.

Assisting the sheriff’s office already are the city of Houghton’s, the city of Hancock’s and Michigan Tech’s police forces. Tacking on another eight miles to their drives adds to the time it takes for them all to respond to a sheriff’s call for backup.

As Kitwen sits outside the county seat, there are options the county could consider, including moving the county seat to Adams Township, which would require a vote, or annexing the property, something the city of Houghton is hesitant to do, given that the property sits, as previously mentioned, eight miles away.

The building, as it currently stands, is not built for direct supervision, given that it has a multi-floor winged layout. This design warrants indirect supervision.

State rules requite that an officer be on duty in the control center and on both floors. The proposed layout of Kitwen, which would have 70 secure beds and 28 work release beds, would require the use of both floors. That would result in the need to hire another 4.2 full-time officers. That means an increase of $260,400 to $327,600 per year in payroll costs alone just adding those officers. That does not include the additional time and travel costs of the local police departments, parole, probation officers, treatment programs, social and mental health workers, clergy, vendors, medical staff, attorneys, and inmates’ family members.

Another cost in using the Kitwen site would be maintenance staff. The current court house and jail have a single maintenance staff member who handles both buildings. With Kitwen’s sprawling design, the county would have to hire more staff, which could increase costs anywhere from $20,000 to $69,000 annually.

Other costs that not considered in the renovation are the maintenance of the road leading into to Kitwen, prisoner meals and medical costs, the latter two would be higher than at the current court house location. The state took care of the road in the past when Kitwen was in regular use, but now, the county would need to either pay for plowing or pay to have the road brought up to County Road Commission specifications, so that they would take over plowing.

Based on the these factors, the task force made what a smart decision by voting to remove Camp Kitwen from consideration as a possible new jail site for Houghton County.


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