Voters in Wayne County voted to approve a 10 year millage renewal for the operation of the county jail. The renewal called Proposition J, costs the owner of a $150,000 home about $70 per year. The millage raises about $45 million a year for jail operations. The renewal passed on August 2nd, 2022 with 61.5% in favor however, more than 101,000 residents still have a bad taste when it comes to leadership in Wayne County government.
The Failed Jail
In 2010, a plan was formed for a new jail on Gratiot in downtown Detroit. County leaders secured $300 million for the project with the goal of an overall cost savings in the long term. Unfortunately, the plan was tossed out by Wayne County Officials after years of delays, tens of millions of dollars in cost over runs and overall mismanagement. After spending $121 million of taxpayer dollars on a half built jail, construction was halted in 2013. Residents were then on the hook for a $1.2 million per month bill to cover costs from the debacle until 2018. In March of that year, County Officials struck a deal with Dan Gilbert to start a new jail on a different property. Although Gilbert covered the costs for demolishing the half-built jail, he was able to keep the land along with other adjacent properties, including the courthouse, jail and former Detroit police headquarters.
Gilbert had originally announced plans for a soccer stadium but that never came to fruition. Later, he announced plans for a $300 million project in partnership with the University of Michigan to construct a ‘Detroit Center for Innovation” on the site however, those plans were also scrapped. According to a report by MLive, “Collier’s International appraised that property, which is across the street from Ford Field, at a conservative $62 million, but Gilbert’s nonprofit, Rock Economic Development Group, acquired it from the county for $21 million.”
Various officials, employees and contractors were scrutinized by the media at the time and faced a variety of charges including corruption charges, misconduct in office, misdemeanors, felonies, willful neglect of duty and more. Several Wayne county officials who worked directly on the failed jail project saw their charges dropped after several months. In addition, the FBI decided not to charge Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano after a lengthy investigation but still blamed him for ‘the mess’ in Wayne County Government. Although the investigation wasn’t able to prosecute those directly involved with the jail project, the FBI was able to charge several staffers in the county executive’s office, including high ranking directors who were sentenced to prison for other issues.
The New Jail
The new plan to construct a jail at I-75 and Mack is still ongoing. The new facility will be larger than the failed jail and will have room for offices for the Sheriff’s Department and offices for the Wayne County Prosecutor. Officials hope to move prisoners into the new jail by 2023 however, the County has not provided any official progress updates since December of 2019. In 2020, Governor Whitmer halted all work in the construction industry. Before the shutdown, the project was already $40 million over the planned $533 million budget. Twelve years after the original plan for a new jail, Wayne County residents watched hundreds of millions of dollars go to waste and are still waiting for results from Wayne County leaders. Reporter Charlie LeDuff has stated that conditions in the current Wayne County Jail are ‘worse than the border.’