Deep in the scrubby jack pine forests of Lake County, an unlikely battle is brewing over the state’s so-called punk prison, reports the Detroit Free Press. The county, which often leads the state in unemployment and poverty, embraced the idea when, in the 1990s, then-Gov. John Engler came courting with an offer of well-paying jobs in the state’s first privately run, for-profit prison. But since its opening in 1999, parents of inmates have alleged physical, sexual and mental abuse at the Michigan Youth Correctional Facility in Baldwin. A watchdog agency has accused the Florida-based GEO Group Inc., which owns and operates the prison, of neglecting inmates’ health, education and rehabilitation.
Now, Gov. Jennifer Granholm wants to yank the state’s $18.8-million contract with GEO to help trim a projected deficit that could top $770 million. The inmates would be shipped to adult prisons by Oct. 1. Critics of the prison back the governor. But Republican lawmakers who favor privatization want the funding restored, and they dispute claims that adult prisons have enough beds to handle the 13- to 19-year-old inmates. Caught in the middle are Lake County residents.