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State to close prison in Gogebic County

 Courtesy: Michigan Dept. of Corrections
Courtesy: Michigan Dept. of Corrections (WLUC)
Published: Aug. 14, 2018 at 10:32 AM EDT
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The Ojibway Correctional Facility in Marenisco Township will close Dec. 1, according to a Tuesday morning announcement from the Michigan Department of Corrections.

The facility has 203 total employees.

The DOC previously announced it would close a prison this year to save $19 million in the next fiscal year. The state's prison population has been declining.

The DOC says there are no immediate plans for how the facility will be used.

The Ojibway Correctional Facility is in Marenisco Township, Gogebic County, on Ojibway Road, near M-64. The Ojibway Correctional Facility was formerly Camp Ojibway prior to expansion.

The minimum security facility has an administration building, a warehouse and store, and buildings for education, meals, training and housing of inmates. The five housing units can accommodate up to 1,180 prisoners.

The entire announcement from DOC Director Heidi Washington is below:

Today, we announced to staff at Ojibway Correctional Facility that the facility would close effective December 1, 2018. We know closures are a challenging time, both for staff at the facility and at other facilities in the region that will be impacted. We are going to do everything we can to support them through this process. We will begin working immediately with staff, union leadership and the Office of State Employer on bumping chains and transfer options, and we aim to give as many employees as possible the opportunity to fill open positions throughout the department, including approximately 700 corrections officer vacancies. We will also be working with the Department of Talent and Economic Development and Michigan Works! to leverage their ability to assist any displaced employees. There was not one single factor that led to the difficult decision to close Ojibway and we closely examined our operations statewide before making this selection. The 2018-19 state budget included a more than $19 million spending cut for the MDOC through an additional prison closure. We have said all along that we would not close a facility until it was clear it could be safely done, and with continued declines in the prisoner population, it was determined that a facility could be safely shut down. Though closures are difficult, our falling prisoner population and historically-low recidivism rate is proof that we are moving in the right direction as we work to give offenders the skills they need to be successful in the community. There are no immediate plans for how the facility will be used, but we are developing a plan that will address all of our closed sites. We value the dedication of the hardworking staff at Ojibway – and staff across the department – who have committed so much of their time and energy to making Michigan a safer place to live. This is our second facility closure this year, and we know closures can be stressful, so we want to make sure to keep you informed on the next steps and answer your questions. As we move forward, we will be providing regular updates with any news about the closure by email and through the Corrections Connection newsletter and Field Days podcast. Employees that will be affected by the closure can send any questions to AskMDOC@michigan.gov. Staff will also be visiting the facility in the near future to address any questions from Ojibway employees. Thank you for your commitment to keeping Michigan safe, your focus on our mission to help others lead better lives and your support for your colleagues as we move through these changes together.

State Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet, released the following statement:

“This is bad news for the more than 200 employees who support their families thanks to the good jobs that Ojibway Correctional Facility provides for people across the Western U.P. Some of these workers drive from surrounding towns and counties, but now the closest facility they might be able to transfer to would be more than 100 miles away. That’s a tough option for a family up here particularly in the winter months.” “I voted against the recent state budget because it included a prison closing. Our U.P. communities can’t afford to lose any jobs, and losing more than 200 jobs is going to be devastating for families and our small U.P. towns. This decision puts the state’s bottom line before community safety and working families, and that is appalling. Gov. Rick Snyder and the state Unemployment Insurance Agency need to immediately begin work with these workers, Marenisco Township officials and Gogebic County officials on job placement services and economic development opportunities. These folks put their lives on the line at work every day to keep the rest of us safe. Republicans who think saving a buck is more important than keeping communities safe and helping working families get by need to do whatever it takes to help these folks find good jobs.”

State Rep. Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette, released the following statement:

"With the Governor's office not proposing a prison closure in his 2018-2019 budget, and the additional proposed facility closure coming from Senate and House appropriation chairs, I'm concerned about who or what is driving this decision. While all legislators are concerned about our state's bottom line when allocating taxpayer dollars during our budget negotiations, we also have a responsibility to keep our communities safe. Keeping our communities safe includes not overtaxing our local county jails and police officers who are operating their departments on shoestring budgets with limited staff and financial resources. Our local communities cannot absorb more stress on their public safety departments if we truly don't have the prison population numbers to warrant the closure of another facility. Therefore, I'm cautious to say this is a necessary and appropriate prison closure when our governor, who manages and works closely with our MDOC director and administration team, did not recommend another prison closure in his budget when he came to the legislature earlier this year."

Michigan Corrections Organization President Byron Osborn released the following statement:

"A prison closure is a time of uncertainty and stress for staff because their employment, work location, living arrangements, childcare, and other critical aspects of day-to-day life are made uncertain. This is true in any closure, but this closure will be especially disruptive due to Ojibway’s rural location. The nearest Michigan prison is about 100 miles away. The MCO leaders understand the stress this will inevitably cause OCF staff and their families and the impact it will have on their small, tight-knit community and the surrounding areas." "MCO leaders will be working with the MDOC to mitigate the impact of this closure as much as we possibly can." "MCO was outspoken earlier this year when Sen. John Proos, Chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Corrections, called for yet another prison closure. Real corrections reform and long-term cost savings must be achieved through innovation and partnership with all stakeholders, not just closures and cuts."

State Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, said the following in a statement released Tuesday:

“This is a game of cups and ball where the state is simply hiding the true costs of closing down prison facilities. Our county jail populations are ballooning because of these closures, causing a greater burden on county budgets that are already stretched thin. And that is unacceptable. We need to recognize the true costs of law enforcement in our state, and not simply pass on the burden to our local communities." "The Ojibway facility supported more than 200 employees, as well as all the people in the community who served those workers. What are the community of Marenisco Township and Gogebic County going to do now? What about the families who suddenly will be out of a job in four months?" "It is especially frustrating that the significant consequences for the Western U.P. were not considered, especially after this community accepted this responsibility from the state at a time others communities shunned having a prison. There were other options available to the state that would have offered the department cost savings that would not have devastated a local community." "Consequently, if this decision is left to stand, I am asking that the state join with us in the immediate days ahead to find ways to offer some jobs assistance to the already struggling economy in the Western U.P. to ensure the community can survive."

Republican Nominee for the 38th District State Senate seat, Ed McBroom, released the following statement:

"This closure is another example of the state being both financially dishonest as well as dismissive of the U.P. We know the reduction in population has more to do with fudging recidivism numbers and sending more prisoners to our county jails than with an actual reduction in incarcerations. This does nothing more than shift the cost from the State to our counties, who cannot afford that shift. And the costs of running Ojibway are not being fairly compared to other facilities because the state is putting undo emphasis on distance rather than taking into account the relatively young age of the facility, security of the location, and proximity to other state facilities nearby. Most of all, it is a state run, typical, myopic way of budgeting that ignores the net costs to the state by foisting such a dramatic hurt on a small, already hurting community —a community mind you that invited this prison in when other communities were turning up their noses."

This is a developing story. TV6, FOX UP, UpperMichigansSource.com, and the TV6 & FOX UP mobile app will have the latest details as they are made available.