HOUGHTON – Houghton County officials met with jail design consultants during a three-day workshop last week to create a floor plan for a proposed jail addition.
Late last year the Houghton County Board of Commissioners authorized hiring a consultant to create a preliminary floor plan for an addition. The plan will explore the feasibility of adding on to the jail, and will provide the basis for accurate cost estimates for the project. The addition is proposed to the rear of the Houghton County Courthouse and attaching to the southwest corner of the current jail, in the location of the parking deck. This location will create an interior connection between the jail and the courthouse. Proposed funding for the addition will be presented to voters in the November 6 general election. The voter referendum is binding and will determine whether the addition is constructed, and the level of funding that will be available.
“We’re in a crisis situation with our jail,” said Brian McLean, Houghton County Sheriff. “Every law enforcement officer in the county knows the public is not as safe as we would like. We need more jail cells, it’s as simple as that.”
McLean said that with additional cells the offenders that should be locked up will be taken off the street. Houghton County’s jail serves, in addition to Sheriff’s Department, the following law enforcement agencies: City of Houghton, City of Hancock; Michigan State Police; Michigan Tech Public Safety; Village of Laurium; Village of Calumet; Village of Lake Linden; Michigan DNR; and county courts who issue arrest warrants or revoke bonds.
Because of a state law, McLean has had to warn Houghton County Commissioners repeatedly
when the inmate population of the jail goes over its legal capacity. Judges are also required to act during over-crowding periods to bring the jail population down to the authorized capacity.
Participating in the focused design sessions this week were: Albert Koskela, chairman of the county commission; Eric Forsberg, county administrator; Tim Palosaari, county commissioner; and Sheriff McLean. Also contributing to the planning were Rod Miller, a jail staffing, operations, and planning consultant with a national reputation; Karin Cooper, AIA, an architect with U.P. Engineers & Architects, Inc.; Kevin Coppo, Undersheriff; and Doug Hebner, jail administrator. The meetings were held at UPEA’s downtown office.
Miller’s non-profit organization has assisted in the design of 1,400 jails and prisons in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada in a career that began more than 40 years ago. He said the layout of the addition for Houghton County this past week developed more quickly than he had expected. “This group has produced a cost efficient building plan because it will be connected to the courthouse and because we’re able to integrate all of the existing jail into an effective plan,” Miller said. The addition will allow the County to close the “work camp” that is operated at the airport, and will provide the courts with important new pretrial and sentencing choices.
“This addition will provide as many cells and separations as the new jail that was proposed in 2010,” Miller added. “By fully integrating the current jail, it will provide more separate housing units than the previous design. The additional beds and separations will provide the flexibility you need to serve citizens–including those citizens you have to lock up.”
The preliminary floor plan will be further refined and evaluated in the coming weeks. Improvements will be made, and state and local officials will review and comment on it. It will be released this summer.
“Here’s what I know for sure about the addition as it is further refined,” Miller said. “All citizens will be safer because there’s room to lock up defendants and offenders as directed by the court, and the general public will be safer from lawsuits.” Miller said that jail over-crowding “is a lawsuit waiting to happen.”
Miller, who founded the non-profit in 1972 in Michigan, is currently based in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and he told officials that the trend in Michigan is that county jail populations have been increasing for the last 20 years. As the state has closed prisons, the number of inmates in county jails statewide has increased by thousands,” he said. “This facility is going to cost less to build and will be as cost-efficient as building an all-new jail.”
Cooper, who has been involved in Houghton County jail design for the past few decades, said she is very pleased with the progress made this week. “It was very important to have participants from the sheriff’s office to address the operational side of the jail, as well as the county board and administration, which are monitoring the costs for the community. The process benefitted from Mr. Miller’s guidance owing to his extensive experience in the planning of operations and staffing for new jail facilities.”
County Administrator Forsberg said he expects extensive public input on the proposed addition. “We’re anticipating a lot of public comment and questions,” he said, adding that there will be a variety of public forums and opportunities to make comments in person, via telephone, email, and social media. “This is a big issue for county voters and we want to hear from as many citizens as possible.”