How Michigan Treats Mentally Ill Inmates

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The most severely mentally ill of Michigan’s nearly 10,000 inmates who receive treatment are housed at the maximum-security at Woodland Center Correctional Facility near Ann Arbor, reports the Detroit News in the continuation of a series on the subject. The prison treats about 200 inmates with a 23-bed inpatient infirmary. Among Michigan’s prisons, Woodland most closely resembles prisons in Norway, which has gained a reputation for effectively rehabilitating inmates and has prompted states like North Dakota and Oregon to adopt some of its practices. The Michigan prison was retrofitted to provide a therapeutic environment. Inmates live in small units of 10 prisoners and can participate in art and music therapy, and even a theater program. Together with Vocational Villages at two other prisons where as many as 400 inmates are trained in robotics, plumbing and other in-demand careers, Woodland reflects a decade-long effort by Michigan to focus on rehabilitation. Only 2.2 percent of the 670 prisoners paroled from Vocational Village programs since 2016 have returned to prison.

“We can focus on security, while still providing comprehensive prisoner training and education,” said Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Chris Gautz. Under Corrections Director Heidi Washington since 2015, the prison population has decreased by more than 5,000 and three prisons have closed. More than 25 percent of Michigan’s 38,000 prisoners are receiving mental health treatment. There is no wait list for a bed in Woodland’s Crisis Stabilization Unit, where the average stay is seven days. Most prisoners are in Rehabilitative Treatment Services, a partial-hospitalization program that lasts six months or longer. There is also a unit for inmates with developmental disorders, as well as about 50 “permanent” residents — inmates with late-stage dementia or mental illness so severe they can’t be managed in a normal prison.

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