Vermont's Arrangement to House Inmates in Michigan Could Be at Risk | Off Message

Vermont's Arrangement to House Inmates in Michigan Could Be at Risk


  • Michael Tonn
Updated at 8:46 a.m. with a statement from The GEO Group.
The Vermont Department of Corrections' contract to house overflow inmates in a private prison in Michigan could be in jeopardy.

A plan gaining momentum in the Michigan Senate would see that state's DOC close two of its oldest prisons, and send inmates to North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Mich., which is privately owned by The GEO Group. The state of Michigan would lease the entire prison and run North Lake as a state facility, according to various media reports.

Currently, 230 Vermont inmates are held in North Lake under a two-year, $30 million contract inked by the Vermont DOC and GEO last year. That contract allows either party to void it with five months notice.
The Vermont DOC is aware of the proposal and has been in contact with key officials at GEO and the Michigan DOC in recent weeks, said Mike Touchette, Vermont DOC's director of facility operations.

The DOC has no backup plan if Michigan takes over North Lake, Touchette said. "This is still emerging," Touchette said. "There's no talk of moving. We haven't had those conversations."

But Vermont may no longer be an important client for GEO. The DOC has slashed its out-of-state population to 236 inmates, down from 340 a year ago and 500 in 2014.

Touchette credited a variety of criminal justice reforms, from an expansion of treatment options to judges issuing alternative sentences for low-level offenders, for the drop in Vermont's prison population.

The GEO contract allows Vermont to send up to 625 inmates to North Lake, which has a capacity of 1,740 prisoners. 

A Vermont inmate in North Lake told Seven Days via email that the prison workers have posted copies of Michigan news media stories about the proposed state takeover throughout the facility. The prison has also seen significant staff departures in recent weeks, the inmate said.

While some inmates told Seven Days last year they were unhappy with North Lake, Touchette said the DOC is "extremely satisfied" with GEO, and does not want to void the contract.

Michigan's WWTV/WWUP-TV reported that GEO, in a statement, declared it was "supportive of the proposed legislative plan" to take over North Lake. The Michigan Senate has not voted on the plan, which a subcommittee announced last week.

 GEO, a Florida-based corporation, owns or manages 104 facilities worldwide, with roughly 87,000 beds in the United States, Australia, South Africa and the United Kingdom. It reported $1.84 billion in revenue in 2015. 

"GEO is aware of the proposed plan in the Michigan legislature and will continue to monitor its progress," the corporation said in a statement to Seven Days. "GEO is committed to its partnership with the Vermont Department of Corrections and will work with all relevant parties as this proposal progresses."