Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel discusses a proposed $228 million expansion of the Macomb County Jail, with a focus on mental health at a press conference May 11.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel discusses a proposed $228 million expansion of the Macomb County Jail, with a focus on mental health at a press conference May 11.

Photo by Dean Vaglia

Macomb County officials announce jail expansion focused on mental health

By: Dean Vaglia | C&G Newspapers | Published May 18, 2023


MACOMB COUNTY — Macomb County officials have announced plans for a new $228 million central intake and assessment center at the Macomb County Jail that will address the need for inmate mental health assessments.

“For individuals in crisis who lack support services, jail can sometimes be a first point of contact with medical professionals, and so it’s essential that they receive the proper care and support,” Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said at a press conference at the Macomb County Communications and Technology Center on May 11. “We are responsible for being a voice for people with mental health issues in our jails, and it’s crucial that we work to improve services to prevent individuals from being placed in a system that is not currently equipped to deal with these concerns. Confinement is not a substitute for treatment, and it is time for a mindful approach to mental health.”

The expansion will replace the existing rehabilitation center, maximum security facilities and work release center. All inmates will pass through a revamped intake center, where they are screened for any mental health or substance abuse issues. If someone is determined to have such issues, Hackel said they may be able to “bypass” the criminal justice process in order to receive treatment if they do not pose a significant threat.

“The main issue is making sure that, if somebody who is going to be here is identified as being a danger to society or (accused of) some type of severe crime, we’re not letting them go,” Hackel said. “It’s not about people getting depression because somebody has a mental health issue and we’re finding some other location for them. If they need to be housed here (because) they committed a crime, we’re going to try to find out how to manage their care while they’re doing time in the county jail.”

The jail will expand its medical and mental health intake bed count to 162, 108 more beds than it currently has. The total inmate capacity will be 1,218, an increase over its current capacity of 1,034 inmates. According to Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham, the jail housed 782 inmates on the morning of May 11.

With demolition set to begin sometime around 2025, the new facility will require state funds to meet its $228 million estimated demolition and construction cost. A total of $178 million will be split between county general fund dollars and American Rescue Plan Act funds, with the latter accounting for $128 million. The state is expected to provide the remaining $50 million. If not, Macomb County Deputy Executive Vicki Wolber said the county’s Board of Commissioners would be asked for additional funds, “whether that is other county funds or if we do need to go and ask for a bond.”

According to officials, the move for improved mental health services in the county jail is because of a long-term cutting of public health services and facilities. This has led to jails becoming the primary mode of treatment for people with mental health and substance abuse issues.

“County jails have been the mental health centers for many years,” Wickersham said. “Here in Macomb County, we have been working on enhancing the supervision of those inmates and providing services to those that have mental health and substance abuse disorders.”

A 2016 assessment of jail needs commissioned by the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office brought back three main recommendations: intake and assessment, pretrial services, and creating new medical/mental health environments and services.

“I’m really looking forward to the beginning of this project,” Wickersham said. “This was three years of hard work from my staff and our contracted vendor to put this together, to address what Macomb County is going to need now and into the future, and we’re very confident that when we look at this (expansion) that we’re going to have the right beds to deal with people with mental health issues.”

Alongside the expansion, Macomb County Community Mental Health announced plans to keep people with mental and substance abuse issues out of jail. Plans include establishing an alternative in the form of a “24/7 engagement center,” developing a jail diversion program, working to expand mental health services to high school students, establishing partnerships with first responders and implementing crisis screening in emergency rooms. The Juvenile Justice Center is also planned to be redeveloped into a noncriminal substance abuse and mental health center. Funding increases are not announced at this time, though MCCMH CEO Dave Pankotai sees the organization having positive budgets in the next three to five years. Its funding comes from Medicaid.

“We also have an additional funding stream,” Pankotai said. “We are a certified community behavioral health clinic.”

The behavioral health clinic can accept patients from around Michigan.

Staffing requirements for the expanded jail are unknown at this time but Hackel hopes the number will “break even,” considering the closing of current operations in the renovated part of the jail.