- Associated Press - Friday, May 15, 2015

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A warden with 17 years of experience in the state Corrections Department was tapped Friday as the next director of Michigan’s prison system.

Heidi Washington replaces Dan Heyns, a former Jackson County sheriff who served for four years, Gov. Rick Snyder announced.

Washington is the warden at the Egeler Reception and Guidance Center in Jackson, where new male inmates are processed before getting a prison assignment. She also was warden at Scott prison, which closed in 2009.

She said one of her goals will be to help “offenders become more successful.”

“I think it’s very important to understand how the department operates, not just on the prison side but on the field side and all the other pieces,” Washington said in an interview. “This is a very large department with a lot of moving parts. My experience as warden is going to help me tremendously.”

She said she was approached about the job and “began a discussion” with the governor’s staff.

Michigan had 43,359 prisoners at the start of 2015, down from a peak of 51,554 in 2007. The department’s $2 billion budget is about 20 percent of the state’s general budget. There are 12,700 employees.

Emails in 2014 showed Washington was critical of the performance of Aramark, a private company hired in 2013 to provide food to prisons. Aramark workers were accused, among other things of smuggling drugs and engaging in sex acts with prisoners.

“At times I felt like Lansing thought I was just being too difficult and too demanding because I was always complaining,” Washington told another employee. “However, I think everyone knows that’s not the case. … Bottom line is lay down with dogs, get up with fleas.”

Snyder said Heyns will help coordinate criminal justice strategy on a statewide basis. He’s expected to remain prisons chief through June.

“Because of his leadership, our recidivism rate is lower and we have identified the factors we need to address to ensure parolees have the tools they need to reintegrate into society outside the prison walls,” the governor said of Heyns.

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