Casperson says he didn't know of decision to close Ojibway

 

August 17, 2018



By JEAN NORDINE

jnordine@yourdailyglobe.com

Marenisco — State Sen. Tom Casperson said he was not informed ahead of time by the Michigan Department of Corrections of its decision to close the Ojibway Correctional Facility in Marenisco before the DOC’s public announcement Tuesday morning.

Ojibway was on a short list of possible closings and while the public was waiting to hear the DOC’s decision many, including Casperson, thought the decision would be made in September. He was part of a group lobbying against the closure.

Meanwhile, hundreds of people gathered Thursday at the Marenisco Town Hall to protest the Michigan DOC’s announcement that the Ojibway Correctional Facility will close Dec. 1.

Chris Gautz, a spokesperson for the DOC, had said he wouldn’t know which prison was to be closed until mid-September.

Casperson, R-Escanaba, said there were other cost saving options available to the state, but when he presented the DOC with a savings plan, he thought it “fell on deaf ears.”

Casperson believes because the last three prison closures were downstate, it was inevitable the next one would be in the U.P.

A group of local leaders working on saving the prison from the chopping block over the past several months had made presentations on the possible closing to various groups.

Gogebic Community College Dean of Students Jeanne Graham, a member of that group, told a recent town hall meeting some of the reasons the DOC felt Ojibway was expendable included less availability for mental health and counseling services for prisoners, travel time for prisoners’ families and the recidivism rate.


Casperson said the recidivism excuse is a false narrative. Changes to sentencing guidelines for judges have led to lower amounts of offenders going to prison, but have increased the amount in county jails, putting an economic burden on counties across the state and not reflective of the true cost of shutting down a prison, he said.

It is a “passing of the buck” from the state to the counties without any “bucks” given to help with the costs, Casperson contends.

Although the announcement has been made, Casperson said the people of the western U.P. should keep up the fight.

Odds are against the decision being reversed, so the public needs to fight to get the state to help with job prospects and retraining, he said. “Get creative with ideas for county grants for future building projects in order to keep the people here,” he said.


Casperson is making a pitch to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to get more involved with the western U.P. He also is pushing for the Department of Environmental Quality to speed up the process of granting permits so that industries that want to be here can be.

Casperson said the MEDC and governor’s office need to “get up here” to speak to the community and let the public know how the state is going to help. He said to “be ready with the big ask.”

 
 

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