Two years ago North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Michigan, opened its doors to receive out-of-state prisoners from Vermont and Washington State. On April 19, 2017, the prison filed notice with the State of Michigan it would permanently close on June 20, 2017, laying off 107 employees due to non-renewal of the client contract. Of the 370 Vermont Department of Correction prisoners that originally arrived from Kentucky in 2015, less than 200 prisoners remain. GEO Group had the option to extend the contract after two years, but decided not to renew it.
In December of 2016, GEO Group announced North Lake likely would not renew their contract with the Vermont Department of Corrections when it expired in June of 2017. In late March, a report from 9 & 10 News quoted Baldwin Village President James Truxton that GEO Group would be expanding operations with hundreds of jobs and providing funds to upgrade the waste water treatment plant. It was also mentioned that the prison might be converted into a federal detention center for undocumented workers.
As of April 19, 2017, none of the above will be happening. The contract with Vermont will not be renewed, 107 employees will be laid off permanently, and the prison will close for good. GEO Group, formerly Wackenhut, has struggled to keep the facility open. In 1999, the prison was used to house juvenile offenders, but numerous complaints and violations made the state of Michigan not renew the contract with the “punk prison” in 2005. In 2011, the prison opened briefly after signing a contract with the California Department of Corrections. The prison sat empty until the spring of 2015, when the announcement came that GEO Group had signed contracts with Vermont and Washington State to fill the prison to capacity. Mass hirings took place at the Michigan Works office in Baldwin, and by July 1, 2015, the prison opened with 370 inmates. By October of 2015, the number of inmates slowly dwindled as they were shipped back to Vermont, and the first layoffs began. Washington State Department of Corrections assured GEO Group they had no intention of shipping prisoners to Michigan days after the contract was signed.
What will become of the prison complex now is uncertain. GEO Group offered to lease North Lake to Michigan in 2016. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed an Obama-era decision for the Bureau of Prisons to stop using for-profit prison companies on February 21, 2017. Will North Lake eventually become a detention center for undocumented workers, or will it sit empty forever? What’s certain is that on June 20, 2017, 107 employees will join the unemployment line in Northern Michigan.