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Why Camp Kitwen Is Not An Option

What can be done about the overcrowding at the Houghton County Jail?

In accordance with the Michigan Jail Overcrowding Emergency Powers Act, Sheriff Brian McLean notified county officials that the jail has been at or over 100 percent capacity for about a month.

There are currently 31 inmates at the jail–still more than the 28 it’s meant to hold–so something needs to be done soon.

Houghton County Sheriff Brian McLean said, “We’ll be meeting shortly with the judges and the prosecutor and the county officials and seeing what sort of remedies the act gives them. We’ve been advised that this will give them different options to look at. There’ll be no immediate releases, or anything like that, but a chance to look over each individual and see who we can move from here to there and get us out of the pickle here.”

One suggestion, to utilize the former Michigan Department of Corrections state prison in Painesdale, is not going to happen.

Sheriff McLean said, “Camp Kitwen needs extensive remodeling. It was built as a minimum security prison. A prison is not a jail. They’re two separate animals completely. In prisons, we house people to keep them there for years at a time. In jails, we house people to let them go the next day, bond out or serve a short sentence. So our jail population will turn over 20 to 25 times in a year, whereas a prison population turns over, maybe, once or twice.”

The sheriff says studies have shown that renovating the prison will cost millions more than building a new jail, and then at least $1 million more a year to house inmates there.

Because of the transportation of inmates to the courthouse for proceedings, only those who are currently serving a jail sentence could be moved.

That means out of the 31 inmates now in the Houghton County Jail (not including those at the workcamp), only two would see the inside of Camp Kitwen.

Here are some excerpts relating to Camp Kitwen from the Houghton County Justice Center Sourcebook.  You can read the entire report completed in 2010 by clicking here.

10A. Was Camp Kitwen considered as a location for the new jail?

Yes. Camp Kitwen was one of several closed state prisons that were reviewed by experts during a regional jail and facility re-use study that was completed this year.

The consultants concluded that Camp Kitwen was not a good resource for Houghton County for several reasons. The Justice Center Committee reviewed the findings and agreed that the camp does not offer a viable solution to meet jail and/or court needs.

Here are the facts:

o Camp Kitwen is a low security facility that is not suitable for secure jail use without costly renovation.

o Camp Kitwen is located nine miles form the Courthouse. Locating the jail there would result in additional cost to transport inmates to the Courthouse.

o The consultants found that the 30-year costs to renovate and operate Camp Kitwen as a jail would cost $7.3 million more (11.7%) to operate than the proposed new jail that would be part of the Justice Center.

o Transportation, construction, maintenance and staffing costs would be higher if Camp Kitwen were to be used for a jail.

o Camp Kitwen has a private sewage system that requires a certified operator.

o Camp Kitwen has a wood burning heating system that would require additional staff.

o At the time of the County’s review of the Kitwen option, the State was not able to grant title to building, but could only rent it. The County was unwilling to invest millions of dollars in a building that it may not own.

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