- Associated Press - Monday, November 23, 2015

YPSILANTI, Mich. (AP) - Officials are taking steps at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility near Ypsilanti to make more room for prisoners as the number of inmates has risen.

Inmates are being housed in converted TV rooms and former offices at the state’s only women’s prison, but state Corrections Department officials said they don’t have a serious overcrowding problem, the Detroit Free Press reported (https://on.freep.com/21ch7hL ).

Officials said the population at the prison has risen about 16 percent from 1,900 in 2011 to about 2,200 this October. In response, the department says four former TV rooms now house a total of 56 prisoners and 44 former offices now house 306 inmates.

This month, the prison plans to open a building that’s now used for storage and food services as a cell area that will accommodate 104 inmates, allowing some of the previously converted areas to be returned to their former uses, spokesman Chris Gautz.

Corrections Department Director Heidi Washington, a former warden at Huron Valley, recently told a state House committee that she “wouldn’t characterize it as being overcrowded.”

Officials at the American Friends Service Committee’s Michigan Criminal Justice Program in Ypsilanti said, however, that they have been fielding complaints from inmates about overcrowding at the facility for the last several years. Natalie Holbrook, the program director, said the increased inmate numbers and reduced common areas contribute to higher stress among inmates.

Holbrook said she met with former department director Dan Heyns about overcrowding in 2014 and since then, “things have not gotten better, they’ve gotten worse.”

The MDOC used to house women at several prisons and prison camps around the state before consolidating corrections facilities for women at Huron Valley in 2009. Gautz said there are no plans to open a second women’s prison and officials have instead focused on expanding the capacity of Huron Valley.

“We feel this is the most cost-effective way of addressing the issue as opposed to opening a whole new prison, while still providing a safe/secure facility for staff and prisoners at the Valley,” Gautz said in an email.

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Information from: Detroit Free Press, https://www.freep.com


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