Macomb County Jail millage update a year later

By: Alex Szwarc | Mount Clemens - Clinton - Harrison Journal | Published April 28, 2021

 A year after stating a millage request for a new jail would be reexamined, Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham said the plan is still on pause. Wickersham is seen here along with Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel in 2019 inside the jail.

A year after stating a millage request for a new jail would be reexamined, Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham said the plan is still on pause. Wickersham is seen here along with Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel in 2019 inside the jail.

File photo by Alex Szwarc

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MOUNT CLEMENS — Plans for a new Macomb County Jail remain on pause.

A year after stating that a millage request for a new jail would be reexamined, Macomb County officials say the plan is up in the air.

In March at a Leadership Macomb session, Macomb County Undersheriff Elizabeth Darga said talks of a new jail are off the table. She noted that the county is now looking at having a medical and mental health intake facility.

“The cost of repairing this building is pretty pricey,” Darga said.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said that before the pandemic, the plan was for the millage request to appear on either the 2020 primary or general election ballot.

A year ago, the jail population reached its lowest point in the pandemic, with about 250 inmates. The April 19 population was 554.

“Everything is still on pause,” Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham said. “The population is still relatively low, so there’s no need at this point to move forward with anything until we see what’s going to happen if and when things return back to normal.”

Wickersham said at some point, something needs to be done about a new jail facility — a topic that has been frequently addressed in recent years.

“The issues aren’t going away,” he said. “We just need to know what the need is going to be and address the need.”

When asked if any projects are planned to improve the current jail, built in 1954, the sheriff said routine maintenance and repairs of a facility that old and big are ongoing.

For an intake facility, Wickersham said there are many directions to take, but there’s no direction to currently head in.

“For us to say anything right now and say ‘is our population going to stay at 500 and is this the trend’ if that was the case, but we won’t know that for another year at least,” he said. “We would have to plan around that and a certain percentage above. If things go back to normal and we hit 800 or 900, then those are things we would already have put forward and do we just bring it off the shelf and move that forward?”

Hackel said the current jail is an infrastructure issue that needs to be resolved.

“The question becomes, ‘What do we do with the funding?’” he asked.

The idea last April, he said, was that it was going to be a challenge moving forward with a funding plan.

“It’s still being looked at, and there is still a need,” Hackel said. “Size and cost are still going to be something we debate and have conversations on.”

Hackel commented that, in regard to funding a new jail, those talks are off the table.

“My biggest concern is making sure we have the appropriate assessment intake center,” he said. “Now we have a Public Defender’s Office to help with community corrections and making sure those who need to be in jail are in jail, has been a huge advantage. We’re not just sticking people in a jail that maybe otherwise we could find other alternatives for.”

In determining the makeup of the jail population, whether it be folks with substance abuse, mental health or homeless issues, Hackel said it’s important for the jail to understand what it is working with when individuals are brought in.

“If we can assess prisoners coming in 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it gives us a better handle on how we mitigate the need for more bed space, which is the true cost of a correctional institution,” he said.

He said the cost to house prisoners is extremely expensive to the public, but alternatives to incarceration reduce long-term cost and folks are being dealt with in a more effective way.   

Down the road, Hackel said the county will have to come up with a plan that meets the needs of the future.

Looking at the current jail, Hackel said its efficiency and upkeep are costing the county a lot of money.

Hackel commented last year that he hoped once the pandemic passes, the local economy would rebound quickly.

“I’m a firm believer the public has to know what they’re buying, so no matter when you put it on a ballot, if that’s what we need to do, they have to know specifically what the need is,” he recently said. “They need to know what we’re doing and the true need for it.”

The original plan was for the new jail millage to not exceed 0.64 mills per year for 20 years. The proposal would have called for constructing, equipping and providing additional staff for a new county jail and Sheriff’s Office, and to expand correctional programming.

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