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  • mcprison mcprison May 22, 2000 12:40 PM Flag

    WHC in Michigan 1

    Changes ahead for troubled prison

    Saturday, May 20, 2000

    By Ken Kolker
    The Grand
    Rapids Press

    BALDWIN -- The private company that
    operates the Michigan Youth Correctional Facility said it
    will increase training for guards and make other
    improvements after a Grand Rapids Press investigation into the
    prison for teen-agers.

    A spokesman for Wackenhut
    Corrections Corp. of Florida disputed some of The Press'
    findings, including allegations by some guards and former
    guards that short-staffing has endangered the lives of
    guards and inmates.

    But he acknowledged the
    prison, which opened in July, is a "dangerous place" and
    has had trouble recruiting

    "Recruiting has been difficult," said Wackenhut spokesman
    Patrick Cannan. "We're going to have to do different
    things to recruit. It's a remote location; the
    population base is not that great. It takes time. It's a
    start-up facility."

    Wackenhut announced this week
    it was taking steps to "eliminate concerns raised"
    about the operations of its prisons for juveniles and

    Also this week, about 140 inmates were transferred
    from the youth prison to other state facilities after
    the state Department of Corrections found it had
    violated the law by sending them there.

    State law
    allows the prison system to house inmates there only if
    they are 16 and under when they committed their crime.
    But the state also was sending prisoners there who
    broke the law at age 17 or older.

    The 450-bed
    prison had housed 330 inmates age 19 and

    State Department of Corrections spokesman Matt Davis
    said the state will move enough young prisoners to
    Baldwin from other prisons to keep at least 240beds
    filled -- the occupancy level guaranteed by its contract
    with Wackenhut. The state pays Wackenhut $67.50 a day
    for each inmate housed there.

    Wackenhut is the
    nation's second-largest private prison operator, with 33
    prisons in the United States and six more abroad and
    profits last year of $22 million.

    Cannan said
    Wackenhut executives have visited the youth prison in
    Baldwin in response to The Press' investigation.

    violent place

    The Press found that the
    understaffed youth prison was more violent than Michigan's
    state-run maximum-security prisons -- a place where kids
    attacked one another and the guards and sometimes tried to
    kill themselves -- and provided little of the required
    inmate counseling.

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    • Other news reports, including recent stories in
      The Miami Herald and on CBS' 60 Minutes, have focused
      on some of Wackenhut's other troubled

      Among the changes, Wackenhut:

      -- Has formed a
      task force to periodically visit its prisons. The task
      force will include an independent ombudsman to listen
      to inmate complaints.

      -- Has created an
      "Office of Professional Responsibility" to investigate
      allegations of employee misconduct.

      -- Is creating a
      Director of Training position to work with employees. The
      guards who work at the youth prison already receive the
      same training as Michigan prison guards, Cannan said.
      "With this training person, we will be developing
      additional training," he said.

      -- Will consider
      adding staff at some of its facilities, including the
      youth prison, and increasing pay, though Cannan said
      pay has not been an issue in

      Wackenhut recently hired a social worker for the Baldwin
      prison and started anger management classes, with an
      enrollment so far of 29 inmates, Cannan said. Other group
      counseling programs will start soon, he said.

      conceded that the Baldwin prison is violent.

      "We do
      know these are murderers, rapists and armed robbers,
      and they're not to be dealt with lightly," he

      "There's going to be some (critical incidents). It's a
      dangerous place, so the staffing and training are

      The state has refused to send new inmates to the
      prison until Wackenhut can hire more guards. About 100
      are working there now.

      Cannan said a class of
      40 guards should be ready to start there in July,
      which will put the prison above its mandated staffing

      Dispute over hours worked

      In a statement, Cannan
      disputed some of The Press' findings, including
      allegations by a former guard that she was forced to work
      long hours, sometimes 70 hours a week. He said she
      averaged 5.5 hours a week of overtime per week from early
      May 1999 to late December.

      A personal log she
      kept showed she worked 74.5 hours the week of Nov. 8,
      and a time slip issued by Wackenhut and obtained by
      The Press showed she worked 46 hours of overtime over
      a two-week period in October.

      The head of
      the recently formed guard union said some corrections
      officers still work 70-hour weeks to fill shifts. Those
      who don't volunteer for long hours are ordered to
      work overtime, said union chief Kevin McDaniels, a
      guard who said he recently worked three 16-hour shifts
      over a two-week period.

      Michigan Department of
      Corrections Director Bill Martin said he welcomed Wackenhut's
      changes, though he contends conditions at the prison have
      improved in recent months.

      "Those sound like
      positive moves that a corporation or any employee could or
      should make," he said.

      In the meantime, state
      Sen. William VanRegenmorter, R-Georgetown Township,
      said he and several other members of the Senate
      Judiciary Committee plan to tour the prison

      "We want to see the facility, get a much better image
      of what the facility is like," said VanRegenmorter,
      chairman of the committee.

      They also hope to
      interview guards, inmates and administrators, he said.

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