As soon as this week, the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin will re-open in Lake County. This facility is expected to create over 300 good-paying jobs while restoring opportunity to a part of Michigan that too often is classified as a recreational area. The positive economic impact North Lake will have on Baldwin and the Lake County community is immense. Projections show that local wages for the facility are projected to be $17 million a year. Those wages can then be spent enjoying some homemade ice cream from Jones’ with the family, used for picking up supplies at Baldwin Ace Hardware, or saved at the local Lake-Osceola State Bank. The bottom line is this will help raise the standard of living in Lake County.
With so much potential on the horizon, it is disappointing to learn about the plans of ill-informed individuals to protest this new facility because they are upset with the Trump Administration’s immigration policy. The GEO Group (GEO) has been providing services to federal agencies for three decades under multiple administrations and will operate this facility under the oversight of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). While I support our men and women who enforce the law and serve our nation as members of the U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE), this facility is not under contract with ICE.
Inmates at this facility are non-US citizens that have been convicted of federal crimes. GEO, contracts with the BOP under a program created by Congress in response to shortcomings in the federal government’s ability to house foreign nationals who broke federal law. Following completion of their sentence, these individuals are scheduled to be deported. North Lake has been specifically designed to house and meet the needs of this specific population, which has different needs than US citizen populations in other BOP-operated facilities. This includes taking into account both security as well as safety considerations of the inmates.
Opponents of the North Lake prison have been failing to communicate accurate information and it’s important to set the record straight.
Those against this facility say that the prison will house immigrants whose only crime was crossing the U.S. border illegally – and who received no due process. This is wholly inaccurate. The re-opened prison is for “criminal aliens,” who committed felonies while in the United States. These individuals have already gone through the legal system and will be sent back to their country of origin after serving their sentences.
Another misleading and complete falsehood is that North Lake will detain immigrant children who became the face of our nation’s crisis at the southern border. Not only is this correctional facility not an immigration facility, but GEO doesn’t manage any shelters or facilities housing unaccompanied minors.
Lastly, there is the mischaracterization that private prisons fuel mass incarceration. First, private contractors only represent 8 percent of all US prison beds. Secondly, GEO is a leading provider of re-entry and rehabilitation services. These programs are utilized both while someone is in custody as well as after an individual is released. Using data provided by the Illinois Department of Corrections, GEO’s reentry centers reduced recidivism rates by 50 percent.
While North Lake inmates are not U.S. citizens, and thus will not reenter U.S. communities following their sentences, they will benefit from programming at the facility that includes education and language programs, computer programs, work and building trades programs, such as carpentry, plumbing and electrical, and life skills programing.
In evaluating any protests or other anti-North Lake activities, it is my hope that that residents of Lake County will focus on the facts and dismiss the dishonest rhetoric. Regarding the economy, job creation, and opportunity the evidence is clear, North Lake will positively impact Lake County.
Congressman Bill Huizenga represents the state of Michigan’s Second Congressional District, which includes most of Mason County.