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Macomb County jail request plans reconsidered amidst COVID-19 crisis

Current facility rehabilitation plans put on hold

By: Alex Szwarc | C&G Newspapers | Published April 11, 2020

 On April 9, it was announced that with the spread of COVID-19 in the region and the corresponding impact it is having on both the jail population and Macomb County’s economy, plans to ask voters to approve a jail millage in August have been reconsidered. Pictured is an artist rendering showing the new Macomb County Jail previously proposed back in March.

On April 9, it was announced that with the spread of COVID-19 in the region and the corresponding impact it is having on both the jail population and Macomb County’s economy, plans to ask voters to approve a jail millage in August have been reconsidered. Pictured is an artist rendering showing the new Macomb County Jail previously proposed back in March.

File artist rendering provided by the Macomb County Board of Commissioners

“Until that time, it would be terribly insensitive to ask our residents for a tax increase when so many are struggling to pay for the basics."

Mark Hackel, Macomb County Executive

MOUNT CLEMENS — Originally slated to appear on the August primary election ballot, a millage request for a new jail now is being reexamined. 

An April 9 press release indicates that the spread of COVID-19 in the region and the corresponding impact it is having on both the jail population and Macomb County’s economy, has caused Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel and Sheriff Anthony Wickersham to reconsider plans to ask voters to approve a jail millage in August.

“During the first week of April, the jail population dropped below 500 inmates for the first time in more than 30 years,” the release states. “The decline is due to a number of factors, including steps taken to find alternatives to incarceration and measures related to reducing the spread of COVID-19.”

Hackel points to skyrocketing unemployment claims from Macomb County residents as part of concerns of a major new expenditure on the jail.  

“We have weathered challenging economic times in the past, but we have never experienced a moment in time quite like this,” Hackel said. “We just haven’t seen it escalate this fast.  No one could have anticipated such a steep overnight decline in employment.”

The release indicates that with more than 16.8 million unemployment claims nationwide and 817,000 claims in Michigan, both workforce and community action agencies are scaling up operations to meet this unprecedented demand.  

Hackel’s hope is that once the pandemic passes, the local economy will rebound quickly.

“Until that time, it would be terribly insensitive to ask our residents for a tax increase when so many are struggling to pay for the basics,” he said.

The plan for rehabilitating the jail that has been developed over the past year and a half will be placed on hold. 

“A lot of good work was accomplished during the study phase,” Wickersham said. “This includes identifying several opportunities for reforming the criminal justice system using best practices from across the nation.”

Macomb County Commissioner Rob Leonetti, who represents St. Clair Shores and Harrison Township, said that in light of current conditions, the decision to not move forward with the request for a new jail millage is what is best for Macomb County at this time.

No date has been given for when the millage proposal may appear on the ballot.

As of April 9, 2,783 confirmed COVID-19 cases have been reported in Macomb County, with 165 deaths. 

It was previously reported that the new jail millage would not exceed 0.64 mills per year for 20 years, until 2039. For a home worth $100,000, the 0.64 mill would cost $64 per year.

The proposal calls for constructing, equipping and providing additional staff for a new county jail and Sheriff’s Office, and to expand correctional programming.

The new 482,189-square-foot jail facility would be 10 stories high with a basement. The Sheriff’s Office building, next to the jail, would be three stories and 50,000 square feet in size.