Detroit House of Correction

The Detroit House of Correction can trace its roots back to 1860. In the early years of the city there was no organized city police force. Most arrests were related to drunk and disordely conduct, and prisoners were kept in a rundown county jail. A city jail was built near what today is the Eastern Market in 1861, and expanded several times over the next few decades.

By 1919, severe overcrowding forced the city to look elsewhere to house prisoners, and over a thousand acres of farmland was purchased near the village of Plymouth, west of Detroit. A prison farm was set up on the land, using tents to house convicts as they tilled the land for food. The city council authorized the construction of a permanent prison on the existing prison farm in 1922, as the building at Russell and Alfred had twice as many inmates as it was built for. Noted architect Albert Kahn was brought on to design the new prison in the late 1920's, but progress was slowed by the Great Depression. The new Detroit House of Correction, also known as DeHoCo for short, opened in 1931.

DeHoCo actually consisted of several different units spread out over the farmland. The main prison complex, parts of which still remain today, was a maximum security unit for men. Across Five Mile Road was another smaller unit for women. To the west were barns and additional housing used as part of the prison farm. The main unit consisted of an administration building connected to two buildings of cell blocks tiers. Other facilites included classroom buildings, a barn used for vocational training, athletic fields, a greenhouse, and a large power plant at the rear of the property. The entire complex was sorrounded by multiple layers of fence and guard towers.

Over the years the DeHoCo was home to a colorful parade of prisoners including gangsters, bootleggers, and bank robbers. Prisoners would occasionally escape, but given the rural nature of the area, rarely caused much of a panic. The farm part of the prison was discontinued in the 1960's or 1970's. In 1979, part of the prison was sold to the Michigan Department of Corrections. In 1985, Detroit House of Correction was closed, and reopened as the Western Wayne Correctional Facility, an intake facility for men run by the State of Michigan. In 1986 and 1989 many of the housing units along the south and west sides of the property were demolished and replaced with modern cell blocks. The former womens prison across the street was demolished to make way for the Robert Scott Correctional Facility, which opened in 1991. Between 1998 and 1999, the power plant at the rear of the site was demolished.

In 2000, Western Wayne Correctional Facility became a minimum security prison for women. Inmates started a garden at the rear of the prison, which provided food to needy families through Forgotten Harvest, a chairty organization.

During this time the State of Michigan began closing prisons in response to budget problems, leading to overcrowding at some facilites. In 2003, the ztate announced plans to build a 400 bed addition at the Scott facility, but later decided to build it on the DeHoCo site. The addition of so many prisoners was contreversial, as residential neighborhoods had started to grow around the prisons. The plan was scrapped, partially in response to community opposition, but also due in large part to some unnerving discoveries being made on the prison grounds.

For years inmates had complained of respitory problems and rashes. Much of DeHoCo had been built on a former landfill of industrial coal waste and refuse. In 2002, as workers begin excavating for a new gun range, they found landfill waste from the 1920's to the 1950's close to the surface. Environmental tests carried out by the state showed high levels of lead. Further studies in 2004 found explosive levels of methane gas leaking from land at the prison, along with flyash and conductive waste.

Instead of building a new addition onto the prison, the State announced it would be closing the Western Wayne Correctional Facility in the fall of 2004 due to its high operating costs. 811 inmates and most of the staff were transfered to the Huron Valley Complex in Ypsilanti in December, and the prison closed for good on December 18th. The next month the prison property was declared surplus and put up for sale.

Though the inital prospects for redeveloping the prison site were high, the crash of the housing market in 2007-2008 slowed residential growth in Plymouth and other suburban centers. Several prospective buyers came and went, and the old prison began to deteriorate. The much newer Scott facility across the street closed in May of 2010, part of budget cutbacks, and was demolished in 2013.

In 2011, part of the DeHoCo site still owed by the City of Detroit was bought by Plymouth Township for $600,000 after being foreclosed on by the county for unpaid taxes. The move sparked a fight in the courts over ownership of the land between Detroit and Plymouth, which slowed redevelopment of the prison property. The courts eventually ruled in Detroit's favor in May of 2016, clearing the way for a settlement.

10+ years of vacancy took its toll on the prison and its buildings. The permanent guards watching over the grounds became part time in 2014, and were eliminated completely in 2015, leading to the usual vandalism and scrapping. In January of 2016, the state representitive for Plymouth township proposed allocating $4 million dollars to demolish DeHoCo, with an additional $10 milllion for long-term cleanup of the site. In January of 2017, demolition work began. The first phase will involve razing the buildings to ground level, with further phases focusing on site remediation.