V. What Do We Really Know About Jail Construction Costs in Michigan?

In its May, 1988 report, MSA indicated that about 10 percent of counties indicated that they plan to build a new jail facility; 20 percent plan to add an annex to existing facilities; and about 40 percent plan major renovations to existing facilities. [28] In its earlier, August, 1985 follow-up to its major 1984 study of Michigan jails, MSA accepted data provided by sheriffs and projected the need for 1600 additional beds at an estimated cost in excess of 58.5 million. [29] Such a cost estimate implies that the sheriffs believed that they would be able to add these beds at a cost of no more than $5,313 per additional bed.

Granted, one could expect that an addition to an already existing facility would cost less per-bed than a totally new facility, in view of the Department of Justice's study indicating per-bed construction costs of $58,000 (current 1988 dollars with absolutely no cost overruns) for a new medium security prison (not to mention the cost of a maximum security facility) [30], it seems highly unlikely that even with the most careful planning Michigan's sheriffs could have added 1,600 new beds at a cost of no more than $5,313 per bed. If they could, Michigan's taxpayers would be as well served in having their sheriffs sell construction services to other prison and jail jurisdictions as they are having their sheriffs apprehending criminals and holding them in jails following their convictions.

This last observation is respectfully given. No one is saying that Michigan's sheriffs are not doing the best they can. Rather it is given to note that, like operating costs, construction costs are not dearly known – even by those to whom the responsibility of calculating costs has been given. Clearly, before we move to solve the jail overcrowding problem by calling upon citizens to fund the construction and operation of new county jail facilities through traditional "within system" government means, we at least ought to have a dear picture of what it will actually cost to build and operate these facilities. Despite the best efforts of DMB and MSA to obtain tie necessary information on the physical dimensions of jail overcrowding and the prospective financial dimensions of a solution, we ought to know what we're talking about. There is good reason to believe that we don't.