New Development in Wayne County Jail Project Saga

DETROIT — Circuit Judge Vonda Evans dismissed criminal charges that had been brought against a Wayne County, Mich. attorney in relation to the abandoned Wayne County Jail construction project in downtown Detroit. The attorney, Steve Collins, had previously been accused of misleading key officials about cost overruns while overseeing the jail’s construction, and was charged with misconduct of office felonies after the project ran approximately $90 million over budget.

Collins’ charges were ultimately tossed as Judge Evans found a lack of evidence or information to support the indictment, and because Collins is a county employee and not an elected or appointed public official. The attorney had originally been charged under a law that allows prosecutors to charge public officials with violating common law, according to The Detroit News. Had he been convicted, Collins would have faced prison time or fines.

Collins was one of several county officials to face legal troubles after the Wayne County Jail project ran over budget. Work on the facility 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 it was confirmed that the project would instead cost approximately $391 million. The following year, Collins, the county’s former CFO 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.

To date, the jail remains unfinished, though several developers have expressed interest in turning the site into a commercial or mixed-use hub.