- Associated Press - Thursday, July 23, 2015

MUSKEGON, Mich. (AP) - How do you move hundreds of prisoners into a new jail?

Answer: Very carefully.

It’s no joke for Muskegon County officials, who are planning the details of a complex transition from the county’s old 370-bed facility to a modern facility with 544 beds - both side-by-side in downtown Muskegon.

Muskegon County Sheriff Dean Roesler told The Muskegon Chronicle (https://bit.ly/1JdP4SS ) that he hopes to start moving jail inmates to the new facility in by mid- to late-August. It’s a move that’s been discussed for at least 25 years - and some say discussions about jail overcrowding go back twice that far.

The jail wasn’t built in a day. It won’t open in 24 hours, either.

Roesler led a group of county officials and citizens on a tour of the new jail July 9 - showing the inside of the jail that is nearly complete. For those who have toured the old jail, with its stained ceilings and cramped holding cells, the difference is like night and day.

The new facility certainly isn’t inviting, Roesler said in an interview later - but it does seem more secure, and safer than the old jail, for inmates and jail staff alike.

Notably, the cells have windows designed to partially obscure inmates in the shower or bathroom. This feature in the new jail was already being installed when the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in December 2014. One of the many grievances listed in the lawsuit was a lack of privacy for female inmates.

Officials who have toured the new jail are optimistic.

Muskegon County Chief Public Defender Fred Johnson oversees the legal defense those accused of crimes but who can’t pay for attorneys. The former Navy JAG lawyer said he’s visited federal, state and military prisons, but Muskegon’s new facility is “the finest jail I’ve ever seen.”

“It’s secure, it looks like it’s going to be humane,” he said at a jail committee meeting July 9. “The ACLU is not coming back here again. We’re not going to be sued.”

Freshman County Commissioner Jeff Lohman said he has some concerns about how the jail transition will occur, but was somewhat upbeat about the building after a tour.

“It’s good to see the deputies will still stay safe,” he said. “It’ll be good.”

The bricks and mortar are in place, but the Muskegon County Jail isn’t quite ready for move in.

At the committee meeting July 9, Granger Construction Project Manager Rob Train spoke about the project status.

“We’re in the finishing stages of the project,” Train said. “We have been approved to move forward with all of the furniture and furnishings.”

Once the jail is completely finished, Roesler said, he still wants 2-3 weeks for his employees to train in the facility.

“We want to be sure we have enough time for people to become comfortable with it,” he said.

Once training is complete, the jail population will be moved over in small groups - what Roesler calls “populations,” separated in the jail for security reasons -over a period of about a week or week and a half.

Roesler has yet to make adjustments in his staff, too.

One of the ways the jail was pitched to the county commissioners two years ago was that a new jail could be run more efficiently, and the reduced expenses would help pay down roughly $40 million in bonded debt the county took on to build the jail and juvenile transition center. Roesler has made a financial commitment to help pay down the debt out of his budget, but he has yet to put a number to how many fewer staff he can run the new jail with.

“We aren’t adding any staff,” he said. Some positions that staff have left have intentionally gone unfilled, he added. He wants to see how operations work in the new jail before making final decisions about his workforce.

If he’s able to cut positions, “obviously the preferable way would be attrition.” But Roesler didn’t rule out the possibility of layoffs.

He’s pleased with how his staff and community have supported to project so far.

“I’m most proud of the staff and the input they’ve had in the process,” he said. “Certainly, I’m proud of the community’s recognition we need to get this done.”


Information from: The Muskegon Chronicle, https://www.mlive.com/muskegon

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