Tuesday morning, the Michigan Department of Corrections announced plans to close the Ojibway Correctional Facility in December.
The DOC decided to close another prison back in June. This is the second facility to close this year due to a falling prisoner populations in the state.
There are currently fewer than 800 prisoners at Ojibway, and they'll be moved into other prisons over the course of the next few months.
Chris Gautz, spokesperson for the DOC, says the situation brings up mixed feelings. It’s good that there are fewer prisons, he says, because it means fewer people are going to prison. The state’s recidivism level is at an all-time low. But he also knows a prison closure can be hard on the department’s staff.
Ojibway is located in Marenisco Township in the far western Upper Peninsula, just a few miles from the Wisconsin border. The prison employs 203 people. It’s one of the largest employers in the county.
Marenisco Supervisor Richard Bouvette says the news wasn’t unexpected, but it still shocked the town. The community has been steadily losing population for a while now. Without the jobs to keep people around and the prisoners who bolster its population, Bouvette says the town’s budget will likely have to be cut by 20% for at least the next few years.
Gautz says the MDOC did its best to listen to the concerns of Ojibway employees and surrounding communities members, who knew their prison was on the shortlist of those that might be closed. In the end, though, Gautz says it just made the most sense to shutter this facility over others. It's far away, and costs a lot more to transport people to and from. Plus, the facility doesn’t run any mental health or substance abuse programs, so relatively few prisoners can even be housed there.
“So that's a big piece, is just the lack of quality programming that we can offer there, because we're not able to attract the kind of staff we need to run those programs,” Gautz says.
Gautz thinks many of the employees will be able to transfer to another facility elsewhere in the state if they wish to do so, although that may mean a relocation for the employees and their families. He says out of the 511 employees who have been affected by prison closures so far, 434 have continued working with the DOC.
But Bouvette can already sense the damage this will have on the area. He expects the closure will truly affect the entire community.
“The people who eat at our restaurants, stop at our gas stations, go to our taverns, people who stop at our car dealerships and buy themselves a new UTV (utility task vehicle) because now they can afford it -- those people are gonna be gone now. It’s gonna be difficult,” Bouvette says.