CRYSTAL FALLS—Although the prisons in Michigan have seen an increase in inmate population, Iron County’s 50-bed jail is operating at about half capacity, and the county could see some revenue by housing state inmates in the vacant cells.
The situation was explained to county commissioners by Sheriff Mark Valesano during the board’s regular bi-monthly meeting July 10.
The new county jail, constructed in the late 1990s, was built to serve Iron County well into the future, Valesano said.
From 1996 until 2009, the average daily population of county jails in the Upper Peninsula grew from 303 to 560.
“Iron County’s jail experienced the same type of growth,” Valesano said. “However, in the past year the jail population has fallen to a daily average of 26.”
In March, the Sheriff’s Department learned of a Michigan Department of Corrections program to board state prisoners in county jails.
The Sheriff’s Department considered the benefits, Valesano said, including utility costs, staffing, food and medical costs that are fairly fixed regardless of the jail population.
By taking in the state prisoners, who are all serving two-year flat sentences, meaning no parole, the Iron County jail will receive $35 per day per inmate.
This means, Valesano said, the department can anticipate bringing in about $10,000 per year. The county received the first DOC inmates on June 18 and currently houses seven inmates. They arrived from Baraga, Camp Ojibway and Marquette.
Valesano said although the program means additional responsibilities for staff, training and security, it is still a means to offset some of the cost of the jail’s operations and help fund some needed upgrades and repairs.
Payment from the state is currently going into the county’s general fund.
The Sheriff’s Department proposal is for the commission to set up a “board committee fund line” in the budget, with 70 percent of the revenue going into the general fund and 30 percent into an “operational assistance fund” within the jail budget.
The money would be used for security upgrades, particularly new doors and locks that are wearing out, Valesano said, as well as enhancing the camera system and providing additional training for corrections deputies.
Valesano provided more information in response to questions from the County Board: MDOC is billed every month, and the county will receive a payment every month; when an inmate leaves, another will be sent to take his place.
Only male inmates are being sent to Iron County; the inmates are moved to a jail near their home as their release dates near, so they will not be displaced into the community; and the DOC provides all transportation.
“We’ve had no major problems so far,” Valesano said. “Iron County isn’t locked into any quota or contract. County inmates will be a priority.
“If we don’t have room for the state inmates, we won’t take them, and if beds are needed for local inmates, we send the state prisoners away immediately.
“DOC comes right away.”
The Sheriff’s Department presentation was informational.
However, County Board Chairman Wayne Wales said he “would be comfortable taking action immediately to set of the 70-30 split with the Sheriff’s Department.”
Commissioner Bev Camp made a motion to take action; Commissioner Fran Wills supported it. The motion passed, 4-1.
county resident Richard Sloat addressed the board, asking that two items be placed on the next meeting’s agenda.
The first was a request that the board place county land on the south side of County Road 424, west of an easement granted to Blaise Andreski, back into park land.
The second was a request the County Board support a resolution from Marquette County to protect air quality, written in response to concerns with air monitoring due to the “influx of mining coming into the U.P.,” Sloat said.
“It’s needed to protect the health of our citizens,” he continued.
Wales said he would like to talk to officials from Marquette County to get more information.