Reporting Charlie Langton
DETROIT (Talk Radio 1270) As voters get ready to cast ballots in the primary election Tuesday, Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon issued a dire warning about the Wayne County jail millage.
He said up to 600 criminals could go free if it’s not approved.
“You’re looking at probably releasing between 500 and 600 people … I’m talking about dangerous criminals … If it’s not made up from some other county funds,” Napoleon said.
The millage is a 10-year renewal of a 0.9381-mill tax to help fund the Wayne County jail system, which gives the system about $39 million a year. The millage has been in existence since 1988.
And the funds have nothing to do with construction of the new Wayne County Jail, the sheriff added — the millage money goes only to operations at the system’s three jails. It costs the average taxpayer about $47 a year.
“These are two completely separate issues, the construction of the jail has muddied the waters,” Napoleon said.
Ground was broken on the new $300 million jail last fall, with a scheduled completion date of 2014, but it was funded entirely separately from this millage.
“This is an operational millage, the jail, just like public safety issues everywhere, it takes the biggest bite out of the general fund,” Napoleon said, later adding, “Mind you, failing to pass this millage will cause us to have to really consider how many people we can actually keep in the Wayne County jail on any given day.”
He added that space is allotted for 1,780 prisoners in the system, and the jails are bursting at the seams with 2,300 behind bars.
“The men and women in blue, brown, gray, green, khaki … They deserve to know when they go and put their lives on the line and risk it all for the public safety of the citizens of Wayne County that there’s a place for this person to be jailed and held until this person is tried,” the sheriff said.
Without the millage, would prisoners be sent directly back onto the streets?
“It’s going to mean they’re going to have to make some serious decisions (about the county budget) … or start releasing people,” Napoleon said .
He added the court would have to consider drastically cutting the prosecutor’s office, court or other facets of the budget to avoid releasing prisoners if the millage doesn’t pass.
“I hope the citizens don’t get confused, the citizens have always supported it,” he said. “Public safety is the No. 1 concern of any government. We tell the citizens we will protect you, in exchange for that we don’t have vigilantism, we don’t have survival of the fittest … But it costs money to do that.”
Napoleon added that suburbanites who think the Wayne County jail system is a Detroit problem need to reconsider.
“There are murders that are happening throughout Wayne County and places where we’ve rarely seen these things happen,” Napoleon said. “You are seeing murders, carjacking, home invasions … It is not just a Detroit problem.”