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Group to protest construction of new Wayne County Jail

An activist group protesting the construction of a new Wayne County Jail is planning to demonstrate at the unfinished jail site on Gratiot Avenue on Friday to express how resources could be better allocated to the community.

The Michigan Abolition Alliance will begin their “speak-out” at 4 p.m. on Gratiot Avenue and St. Antoine Street in front of the partially built jail.

The group previously disrupted a Wayne County Commission meeting on Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert’s proposal to build the county a new jail at an alternative location in exchange for the Gratiot site. 

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Gilbert’s proposal involves a potential Major League Soccer stadium.

“You can make the claim of bringing jobs and income to Detroit, but the reality is tens of thousands of people had their water cut off and working-class Detroiters are being pushed out of the city,” organizer David Langstaff said.

The city’s water department this week began another phase of water cutoffs to address thousands of delinquent accounts.

“We oppose the construction of a new jail in Detroit or anywhere else and furthermore oppose the old jail,” Langstaff said. “Our group is predicated on the notion that the entirety of the incarceration system has to go.”

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“But in the short-term, we’re trying to highlight the contradiction between spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the construction of new jail while 18,000 people have their water cut off.”

The demonstrators want to see ways resources could be put toward the community’s needs and move toward non-punitive methods for addressing crime, Langstaff said.

As an alternative to a new jail, Langstaff said they are hoping to connect with the people of Detroit to push for community resources such as access to clean water, affordable housing, and income, rather than building “more cages.”

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“We’re starting from understanding that part of the reason people are criminalized and forced into jail is the ways communities in Detroit have been economically devastated,” he said.

“We don’t believe it’s actually an aim of the existing prison system to facilitate any kind of accountability or reparation or hearing.”

The county has for years been trying to build a new jail to replace its current overcrowded facility.

The stalled Gratiot Avenue jail project was halted in June 2013 when it became clear it was on pace to run tens of millions over its $300 million budget.

County Executive Warren Evans has been trying to restart construction.

But Gilbert in February proposed building the county a new criminal justice complex off East Forest Avenue, east of I-75, about 1.5 miles north of the Gratiot Avenue site, using the county’s $300 million and private funds.

In return, Gilbert would get the the Gratiot Avenue site for construction of an entertainment complex — including a potential Major League Soccer stadium — plus an unspecified credit for any savings the county would get out of a new justice complex that would include a courthouse and juvenile detention center.

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