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SB 878 - Private Prison Bill Passes Early this Morning

After about 30 minutes of testimony yesterday morning and 30 more minutes yesterday afternoon, the committee voted to report  SB 0878, which outlines MDOC's ability to work with private facilities and specifically mentions the former Michigan Youth Correctional Facility in Baldwin.  This bill passed in the early morning hours today, and is expected to be signed into law by the Governor.

As Democrats hurled questions about the bill, Rep. Joe HAVEMAN (R-Holland) argued  that the legislation is about encouraging competition.

"The benefit of this bill is to create a competitive atmosphere within the department," Haveman said. "I think competition breeds quality, cost effectiveness. And it makes us all better."

Likewise, Sen. John PROOS (R-St. Joseph) -- the bill's sponsor -- told the Appropriations Committee that the bill would lead to cost savings called for under the budget.

Although Democratic committee members opposed the bill, they won an amendment that would require 10 percent savings in private contracts. Rep. Rashida TLAIB (D-Detroit) put forth the amendment.

"I think we need to be much more direct in how much we're trying to save," Tlaib explained.

Haveman supported the amendment, saying the 10 percent requirement had been featured in previous legislation.

Overall, Democratic committee members were skeptical of the bill's intent and voiced frustration that the MDOC wouldn't provide more information.

"I know we're not just authorizing the department to do something, just because," said Rep. Fred DURHAL Jr. (D-Detroit) at one point.

Rep. Ellen Cogen LIPTON (D-Huntington Woods) noted that the GEO Group owns the former Michigan Youth Correctional Facility, which the bill would allow to house adult inmates currently under the jurisdiction of the MDOC.

Lipton read a list of problems faced at other GEO facilities across the country, including a 2007 riot at a GEO-run facility in Indiana.

"That's a tragic picture of competition," Lipton said after reading her list. "I'm frankly outraged really that we're using the mantra of competition and cost saving and completely ignoring the track record."

Tim HUGHES, representing the United Auto Workers (UAW), also spoke against the bill. Hughes, who said the UAW represents thousands of Michigan corrections employees, argued that running a prison system should be a state responsibility.

Hughes added, "For those of you who have prisons in your districts, I would suggest you consider the possibility that if the GEO facility in Lake County is reopened, the likelihood is that another prison is going to be closed somewhere."

The bill passed the Senate in March.  Click here to see SB 878Click here to see the Summary of HB 878.