On May 2, a private prison corporation announced that it will reopen the only for-profit prison in the state of Michigan. The GEO Group said it expects the North Lake Correctional Facility in rural Baldwin to generate $37 million for the company in exchange for warehousing “criminal aliens,” or immigrants who have been convicted of crimes, including the federal misdemeanor offense of entering the country illegally.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons agreement to reopen North Lake is just one of the contracts the company has inked with the federal government since the Trump administration took power. That’s not a bad return on investment for the $395,000 in combined PAC and direct contributions that GEO Group made to various Trump-supporting PACs in 2016, including $225,000 that has attracted a lawsuit by the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center.
But while GEO Group is celebrating its success, others aren’t as pleased. Immigration advocates worry that people incarcerated in North Lake will be more than an hour from potential legal counsel and hundreds or even more than 1,000 miles away from their families. Criminal justice reform advocates are concerned because for-profit prisons operate even less transparently than government-run facilities.
The Campaign Legal Center is suing to try to force the Federal Election Commission to enforce the law which bars federal contractors from making campaign contributions. Local people are grateful for GEO’s $8.8 million pledge to upgrade the community’s sewers, but they also hope that this time, the company will actually hire some locals to fill some of the reopened facility’s better-paying jobs.
According to Ruby Robinson, a co-managing attorney with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, North Lake’s location isolates the people who will be incarcerated there from both family visits and legal representation. Baldwin, located in Lake County in Michigan’s northern lower peninsula, is up to an hour-and-40-minute drive from Grand Rapids.
“Baldwin is quite a distance from where the majority of Michigan’s population lives,” Robinson told Daily Kos. “It’s not easy to get there … and [the prison’s location] certainly has the effect of providing limited options for family members to visit. Also, if individuals need legal assistance, there is not a robust community of immigration law practitioners near Baldwin.”
This won’t be the first time that North Lake has held prisoners far away from family and sources of legal support. First opened in 1998 as the Michigan Youth Correctional Facility, GEO most recently housed 300 incarcerated persons from Vermont before closing for what seemed to be the last time in 2017.
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