‘There needs to be a very unique fix’

Officials provide inside look at jail

By: Alex Szwarc | C&G Newspapers | Published July 5, 2019

 Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel and Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham provide a look inside a jail cell at the Macomb County Jail in Mount Clemens.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel and Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham provide a look inside a jail cell at the Macomb County Jail in Mount Clemens.

Photo by Deb Jacques

  This cell in the Macomb County Jail built in 1954 houses pre-classified inmates. On July 1, officials held a news conference there to discuss current jail conditions and share information about the proposed new facility.

This cell in the Macomb County Jail built in 1954 houses pre-classified inmates. On July 1, officials held a news conference there to discuss current jail conditions and share information about the proposed new facility.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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MACOMB COUNTY — Less than two weeks after a presentation regarding a proposed new Macomb County Jail, county officials held a tour of a jail cell.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel and Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham provided a look inside the Macomb County Jail July 1.

The two spoke from inside a cellblock built in 1954, when the jail opened, to discuss current jail conditions and share information about the proposed new facility.

“We’re still using this facility and use this cell for individuals that are coming down from either substance abuse or alcohol abuse,” Wickersham said. “We use it because it’s a dormitory-style facility. This is an example of indirect supervision.”

Indirect supervision is when officers have to come by once an hour and check on inmates.

Direct supervision, a feature of the new jail, is when correctional officers are integrated with inmates.

Macomb County leaders recently presented plans for a new $371 million jail to be constructed on the current county jail property. The 1,518-bed facility would replace the existing complex.

“There’s not a lot of people out there — whether it’s the Board of Commissioners, people in the field, judges — that don’t come to the understanding that there needs to be a very unique fix,” Hackel said.

Hackel also would rather have the proposal on the August 2020 ballot, as opposed to this year. Ballot language must be approved by Aug. 13 for the Nov. 5 general election. The Macomb County Board of Commissioners will decide the proposal’s fate at its July 25 meeting.

The funding mechanism recommended is a 20-year, 0.98-mill county tax: 0.78 mill would fund the $371 million proposed new jail, and 0.2 mill would support the operation and personnel costs associated with it. For a home worth $150,000, 0.98 mill would cost $73.50 per year for just over two decades.    

Wickersham said that with a 65-year-old facility, there are infrastructure issues.

“We have infrastructure that is crumbling and falling apart,” he said.

He cited previous jail studies that have concluded that Macomb County should leave the outdated facility and move to a more modern and energy-efficient jail.  

A June 19 presentation from Wickersham included the project goals and planning process, a schematic design overview, an estimated project cost, estimated staffing, and potential health care cost avoidance.

The Macomb County Jail, located on Elizabeth Road in Mount Clemens, currently has a capacity of 1,238 beds. The jail houses pretrial detainees, as well as prisoners sentenced to one year or less. Many of the programs at the jail assist in providing counseling services and life skills aimed at reducing recidivism.

Due to community issues like mental health and substance abuse, Wickersham said the current facility lacks the “right bed for the right inmate.”

“We have a mental health facility that’s been repurposed and is not a good facility,” he added. “We need to make some changes and this problem isn’t going away.”  

When the jail opened in the ’50s, its capacity was a little more than 100 inmates. Due to the increasing Macomb County population, the average enrollment per day in the 1960s increased to 150. New additions were added in the 1970s, including construction of the $3.5 million rehabilitation center.

For the proposed new jail, Wickersham said there’s a focus on central intake assessment, which would help determine who needs to be in jail, and a  state-of-the-art mental health medical facility.

“Another aspect is moving to more direct supervision,” he said. “The staff is right in with the inmates and supervising behavior. It’s been going on for 25 years around the country.”   

According to sheriff’s records, a 40,000-square-foot jail addition was built to house 104 minimum-security inmates in single-person cells and helped increase the jail’s total capacity to 354 inmates. Its current capacity is 1,238.

Hackel, the former sheriff, said that much like fixing Michigan roads, the question is about the funding, not whether or not a new facility — or improved roads — is necessary.

If approved by voters, the new jail would be built directly west of the current jail. The current jail annex would be demolished to make room.

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