Tab Increases for Stalled Detroit Jail Project

DETROIT — A recent rundown of average monthly and annual costs related to upkeep on the stalled Wayne County Jail construction project in downtown Detroit shows the project continues to be a heavy financial burden on the already strained city.

The figures, compiled by the Wayne County Executive’s Office and published on May 23 by the Detroit Free Press, show monthly fees connected to the project range between several hundred dollars for things like trailer rentals, to more than $1.1 million for debt payments. In total, taxpayers spend $1.2 million per month on site security, electricity, pollution insurance, warehouse leasing for the jail’s more than 100 precast concrete cells, materials and other costs.

Work on the Wayne County Jail on Detroit’s Gratiot St. was first approved in September 2011. Then, plans included the construction of a new five-story, 2,000-bed jail at a cost of approximately $300 million. The project was intended to deliver a state-of-the-art, money-saving facility that would streamline management of jail medical care, food programs and laundry services. It was originally projected to save Wayne County up to $30 million annually, and would have facilitated the closing of two nearby correctional complexes.

Despite making some progress on the project, which began in mid-2012, construction was halted in the summer of 2013 after the project ran more than $90 million over budget. The following year, the county’s former CFO, a member of the county’s legal team and a former construction manager were all indicted for their roles in the failed project.

Though Wayne County has explored relocating the jail to an existing facility on Mound Road, completing the partially finished 15-acre project as planned or selling the downtown site to a developer, no formal plans have been announced. Mound Road currently has space for just 1,600 beds, while the county averages more than 2,200 inmates per day. Another facility in Hamtramck with space for 800 beds could potentially fill the void, though plans for the downtown Detroit facility were intended to make this jail obsolete. Large-scale renovation work would also be necessary to bring the facility to high-security standards, costing an estimated $20 million. Adding the necessary courthouse and juvenile detention facility would increase the cost to upwards of $650 million.
"Due to the county’s financial state, anything done on the Gratiot jail will just add to the deficit,” Lloyd Jackson, a spokesperson for County Executive Warren Evans, told the Detroit Free Press. “Once the deficit has been solved, the county can move forward with options on whether to finish the Gratiot site or renovate the three existing jails. As the county makes progress on its recovery plan, it will better be able to solve the jail issue.”