Michigan cutting three regional prison stores under new contract

LANSING (AP) - About 30 Michigan prison workers are expected to lose their jobs as the state eliminates three regional prison stores, officials said.

Michigan is expanding a system under which prisoners purchase toiletries and other items through electronic kiosks and a vendor sends the goods to prisoners through secure packages, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Holly Kramer said Missouri-based Keefe Group now sends items to regional stores or warehouses at Parnall Correctional Facility near Jackson, the former Riverside Correctional Facility in Ionia and Kinross Correctional Facility in the Upper Peninsula.

From there, the orders are sorted, packaged and distributed to prisons around the state. Under a new three-year contract with Keefe, Kramer said the regional stores will be closed. Keefe will package store items and send them directly to prisoners.

"While their current positions will be eliminated, most employees will have the opportunity to continue working with the department in other capacities as they fill other operational vacancies," Kramer said.

The cost of both the former contract and the new one is covered by surcharges assessed on prisoner purchases, so there is no estimated cost savings for the state, she said.

Eliminating state jobs will reduce the overall cost of the purchasing system, so a likely result is a higher balance in the Prisoner Benefit Fund, which takes money from the surcharge on prisoner purchases to pay for recreational items such as gym equipment, she said.

The employees are represented by the Michigan State Employees Association, which is part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Nick Ciaramitaro, legislative director for AFSCME Council 25, said the union is seeking more detailed information.

"We don't understand why we are engaging in additional outsourcing, since the state (prisoner purchasing) operation now operates in the black," Ciaramitaro said.

Published: Thu, Apr 09, 2015