The New Saginaw County Jail

Facility Designed to Better Serve & Protect

Posted In: Politics, State, Local, News, Local, State,   From Issue 883   By: Robert E Martin

08th August, 2019     0

The Saginaw County Adult Detention Center, 208 S. Harrison St., is nearly 50 years old and was built in 1971. It houses 513 inmates, but was originally built to house 218. Over the years, several additions have been made to it, and according to Sheriff William Federspiel it is outdated, which carries ancillary issues of safety to both personnel and the general public.

Back on Aug. 15, 2017,  Saginaw County Commissioners passed a resolution and notice of intent to issue tax-exempt bonds to finance the cost of acquiring, constructing, furnishing and equipping the Saginaw County Jail and Sheriff's Administration Building; and on  May 21st  of this year, ground was broken for the construction of a new $35.8 million Saginaw County Jail that will house 511 inmates.  The jail is currently staffed by 53 correctional officers, while the new jail would have only 43.

The bonds will add on another $2.5 million in interest over the 30 years if they aren't paid off early, bringing the total to more than $38 million, according to Saginaw County Controller Robert Belleman.  The bid for construction the new jail was won by Spence Brothers, which was founded in 1893 and also built the new Huntington Event Park.

Recently, I sat down with Sheriff Federspiel to discuss the need, rationale, and cost of this latest architectural addition to the Westside Saginaw landscape.

 Review: The new jail looks like a huge 3-story hard-luck hotel compared to the current detention center, yet its only built to accommodate 511 inmates, approximately the same number as the current jail.  Why is that the case with so much additional square footage?

Federspiel: That’s a good question. A couple things happened that necessitated a new jail. First, this current one is 50-years old and needs technological updates; plus it was built in a more linear style with long corridors and big cells holding 28 men - actually, one of the dorm holds 72-men and we also have a 68-female dorm, so if a fight erupts it requires a lot of men to quell it.

There’s no more dorms in this new jail. With the new facility the monitoring and control center has windows all around it, so the deputy can look out glass windows and see what’s going on in all the day rooms, which are double-stacked. This is why the new jail looks like a 5-story building. With this new ‘pod’ system, each cell is 28 feet tall and are stacked with 4 prisoners in each cell and a total of 16 on the bottom for and 16 on the top, so each pod will accommodate 32 prisoners with only 4 mingling at a time. We’ll also have medical on every floor now, as we deal with a lot of mental health conditions.

In order to realize this, I didn’t want to put additional taxes on the public, so needed to reduce my staff by 30% in order to keep the budget the same. With this new system I will reduce my staff by 30%, so am not asking for an increase in my budget.  If its kept at the same levels we can use the savings to pay off the 30-year bond that is paying for construction on the new jail.

Presently we have anywhere from 11 to 14 deputies at the jail and with this new system I can reduce that number by three or maybe four officers on a night shift without jeopardizing safety. There are no staffing requirements mandated by law, so I have to base my decisions on ‘best practices’. Best practices with podular style jails is different than that with the old linear style.

This new jail will be manned 24-hours a day with security officer doing their rounds and 24-hour medical staff, so it’s a safer situation and also easier to monitor.  With the old jail if you get 15 guys fighting it can get pretty intense. 

I can tell you some horror stories.  Once when I was taking our County Controller on a tour of the jail when he first came on board, a fight broke out in a 14-man cell. One of the prisoners had a mental issue and was taking his feces and wiping it on peoples’ beds. The other inmates were rightfully disgusted and wanted to kill him; and I didn’t know if this was a ruse, so had to bring down an extraction team of 14-people to clean things up.  With the new facility, the most we will need is four to eight men, so it’s more manageable and less liability for the public, plus much safer for the employees. And to accomplish this without raising taxes is a win-win situation.

Review: When Detroit started a new jail a few years ago they abandoned the project less than half way through after they hit $91 million in cost overruns; and Saginaw also ran into a situation where the initial $35 million cost increased by $2 million to $37 million.  Originally, the jail was supposed to open by Thanksgiving but the last I heard that’s been pushed to mid-January. What’s your take on this situation?

Federspiel: Well, at our Building Authority meeting on August 1st we were told that our opening date has been pushed back from January to March, 2020 because of a shortage of masonry workers. As for the cost overrun, this was because of an issue with the foundation, as the engineers didn’t do any soil testing and it was built on the former site of a sawmill.  We’re a lumber era town and this is what increased the cost, but we’re still under the $40 million mark. 

We had to get down to bedrock and I watched them do it, pounding 50-foot I-Beams down and welding them to create 144 pilings so the structure would be sturdy and sound.  This wasn’t done when the current old jail was built, which is why we’re probably having issues with it.  Unfortunately, the engineers didn’t catch this issue with soil testing during the planning phase, but this money would have to be spent one way or another.  It’s a unique situation and no finger pointing is necessary. It happened and is something that needed to be addressed, regardless of whether it was at the stage of inception or not. The important thing is that we caught it before construction began. Apparently, this side of the river has softer soil and a longer drop to bedrock than the east side of the river.

Review: So what is going to happen to the current jail. What will it be used for?

Federspiel: The current jail will be demolished and it’s up to the County Board of Commissioners to decide whether they want to make it into green space, create a parking lot, or possibly use it for a new Animal Control center or Juvenile center - I honestly don’t know, but have heard discussion on all these ideas.  Once the present jail is torn down we have to excavate under it in order to put a new 150 foot tunnel under Harrison street for transporting prisoners to the court house.  It was unfeasible to build the new jail on this current site because of the foundation issues, coupled with the fact that to build the new jail we wanted on the current site would have lost us 200 beds.

Review:  At one point you wanted to construct the new jail by converting the site of the old General Motors Transmission plant. How much would it have saved to build the jail there and why was that idea shelved?

Federspiel:  If I could have got that GM plant and spent $15 million to acquire it and saved $12 million overall on the entire project, I could have kept the same staffing levels and used the savings to transport prisoners back and forth to the court house; but the bid came in higher than anticipated, plus transporting prisoners longer distances is unsafe, in addition to being costly.

Review: Would there be a benefit of eliminating prevailing wage at the County level in order to cut costs?

Federspiel: If you cut prevailing wage to save money for the taxpayer, you may realize savings by doing that, but I’m not an economist. I’ve heard both sides of that story. We have a good crew over there and I like what we have and I am a strong supporter of organized labor. The prevailing wage issue has some strong support and strong opposition, but as a Sheriff I don’t make those decisions.

Review:  How much will the County receive for housing federal prisoners and prisoners from other counties throughout the State of Michigan?

Federspiel: I have a contract with the federal government and am negotiating with them right now. They’re not building federal prisons right now, so need to find places to house prisoners. The Saginaw County Courts have done a great job keeping people out of jail that are not violent offenders - those who have jobs and can use either a tether or GPS device to keep them out of the jail while they’re out on bond. I give them credit for doing that because it’s actually helped us keep our counts down to the tune of 120 inmates a day, which frees up jail space.

Presently, we get $53 dollars per day per inmate from the federal government; and I have a deal with Genesee county where whereby we house 28 inmates and get paid $35 dollars a day for them, which over the course of a year amounts to $319,395 that can go into debt service on the jail bond.

My staff is set up to accommodate 513 inmates, so when we aren’t hitting that level, it doesn’t cost us anything more to take these inmates on. My predecessor would often have 600 to 650 inmates crowded into the jail; and the last time we came close to an overcrowding situation was five or six years ago, so lowering our count has helped tremendously.

Over the course of one year, if we receive $483,000 dollars from housing federal inmates, plus the $319,000 from Genesee County, we could be close to capturing $750,000 in revenue per year by doing this.  We can’t pay for the jail with outside services at first, but my goal would be do get that bond payment down for a 30-year debt service to a 20-year debt service down the line.  Right now I’m negotiating with the federal government on that per diem, because the current $53.00 per day rate is a 12 to 15 year old rate.  If we can get a higher rate, we could probably get the revenue stream from this up to close to $1 million per year.  Of course, we’ll need more personnel if we get more federal prisoners, but that’s a good thing.

We could also buy new transport vehicles to transport federal inmates to the federal courts and this would also help pay for some overtime.  I’m not trying to transform this into a money-maker here, but if we have the capabilities to handle it we will. I will never close this jail to local entities, however.

Review: Are the levels of crime going down?

Federspiel: Our inmate numbers are down to approximately 400. I terms of violent crime, it’s gotten a lot better, but from a Sheriff’s perspective, there’s never a time to rest. We are a unique agency. I put our resources into places that I think help the public.  For example, community events such as Friday Night Live like a police presence, but the city is depleted and charges a lot of money for officers.  I don’t charge at all and send my posse down there; and the same is true with the Art Fair and the Dow Event Center.  I have the ability to do this and don’t have to do it, but I like to. It’s nice when we have additional officers to do these things and be proactive and deter crime.

Perception is reality and I have no control, for example, over the number of state police officers helping out in Saginaw County. There is no guarantee from the Governor for providing State police. At the peak the State of Michigan was providing 35 officers and if they cut that, it would cause significant issues within this community. The Michigan State Police have done a bang-up job helping the City of Saginaw and if they left we would have had to jump in, which would create a vacuum in the up-county areas, where we help the locals in the suburbs and rural rings.

We have a unique community here when it comes to law enforcement and it’s rare to see this kind of cooperation. There’s only 83 Sheriffs in the whole state of Michigan and I hear horror stories about how territorial things can get.  We’re not like that here in Saginaw County. Whoever gets to that call first handles the issue. I deputize every officer in the county that wants to be deputized, so even if they’re off duty they can act.  This helps us and is what makes us a great community.



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