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Solutions, not excuses needed to rectify failed Wayne County Jail project

Phil Cavanagh

Phil Cavanagh

By Phil Cavanagh

Let’s take review the history of the Wayne County Jail. In 2005, the Wayne County executive created the Wayne County Regional Justice Complex Commission to study the feasibility of consolidating all local law enforcement and court activities into a single criminal justice campus. In October of 2005, the Commission on the Wayne County Regional Justice Complex issued its final report which identified significant short-term and long-term benefits of a Regional Justice Complex to Wayne County.

In 2006, the Wayne County Commission approved $2.1 million for a feasibility study. Detroit-based DMJM Inc., performed the study and examined ways to cover the estimated $300 million cost of the project and recommend a site. The Wayne County Commission was never given the study by DMJM, but instead was told that potential site locations included Detroit City Airport, the former Tiger Stadium and the dilapidated Michigan Central Depot.

Fast forward seven years and what does the county have? A partially-built failed jail project that’s original estimated cost was $300 million, but was halted when projected costs to finish the project soared to almost $400 million. Earlier this week, the Wayne County Commission fiscal agency warned this project could cost taxpayers upwards of $1.1 billion.

In November 2010, the Wayne County Commission approved bonding for a new jail project on a vague promise of $26 million in annual savings to the county. This project was rushed through the commission with minimal examination and cost analysis. Wayne County spends about 75 percent of its general fund budget on criminal justice — including courts and incarceration. Its jail system is the largest local system in Michigan; managing an average daily population of about 2,600 people, many of them repeat offenders. The original jail proposal only called for 2,192 beds.  The most basic details, like prisoner capacity and rehabilitation, were overlooked from the beginning.

Now is the time for solutions to Wayne County’s Justice System; it has been said this project costs taxpayers nearly $70,000 a day.  This project has lacked guidance and direction from the start. Wayne County’s lack of competency and failure to manage this jail project is an injustice to all. Wayne County voters deserve leadership; every day without an end to this boondoggle is just another reminder of this terrible failure.  Wayne County voters want and need leadership that realizes the importance of a well-managed justice system.  Let’s take a comprehensive look at the system: the courts, clerk, prosecutor and sheriff’s offices.

Decisions need to be made that get criminals off the streets, quickly prosecute habitual offenders and provide wraparound services to the mentally handicapped. The county executive has not shown an ability to handle this project.  The DMJM Justice Center Complex Study report can guide the Wayne County Commission to a comprehensive solution for a functional Wayne County Justice System.

Phil Cavanagh (D-Redford Twp.) is a member of the Michigan House of Representatives. Reach him at

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