Crowded Michigan Jail to Receive Third Expansion

LIVINGSTON, Mich. — The Livingston County Board of Commissioners has approved construction contracts, as well as the issuing of up to $15 million in tax-exempt general obligation bonds, clearing the way for expansion at the county’s severely overcrowded jail. The expansion project will add a number of new beds to the chronically overwhelmed facility, increasing its bed capacity from 254 to 411.

“The jail expansion is a well-documented need,” Board Chairwoman Carol Griffith said to the Lansing State Journal earlier this month. “The current facility is out of compliance and poses potential liability issues that can only be remedied with the jail expansion.”

The Livingston County Jail typically houses approximately 60 female inmates, though it has beds for just 31, the journal reported. However, the facility first made local headlines for its overflowing population in 2007 when it began releasing some non-violent, low-risk offenders to ease overcrowding. In 2011, Livingston County Sheriff Bob Bezotte declared a state of emergency after the jail exceeded its capacity for five consecutive days.

Despite these efforts, photographs depicting conditions at the facility released in December 2013 by Livingston Daily showed female inmates sleeping on the floor in a crowded intake area. Sheriff Bezotte also reported that the jail sewer system had been overwhelmed by the amount of use, and that backups were a frequent concern.

Speaking with the journal, Sheriff Bezotte said, “We should never be in a situation where we have eight people sleeping on top of themselves with one toilet. I put myself in that position and I would be furious. As the sheriff and elected official, I think it’s my duty to bring this to the attention of the commissioners. This is an ongoing issue we have to deal with. This is not right. Period.”

Total construction costs for the expansion have been estimated at nearly $17 million. In addition to providing nearly double the current bed space, the facility will include a number of modern technology improvements such as video visitation and arraignment and more effective security systems. It will also provide separate holding and isolation areas for male and female inmates, new exam rooms, triage areas and medical cells, and a larger pharmacy space. An elevated control room to improve supervision and larger rooms for evidence and property storage will also ease operations.

The existing facility was built in 1971 and was originally dedicated to male inmates, as female inmates were then rare for the county. Smaller expansions in 1996 and 2000 brought the jail to its current capacity. Now, new construction is expected to begin by fall 2014, and could be completed as early as May 2015.

Bethesda, Md.-based Clark Construction, which has already completed several renovation and expansion projects at the facility, will complete the construction work.