The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Dianda calls on Snyder to halt Ojibway closure


August 18, 2018

State Rep. Scott Dianda said he has sent a letter to Gov. Rick Snyder asking that the Ojibway Correctional Facility in Marenisco remain open.

The state this week said it would close Ojibway on Dec. 1.

On Friday Dianda, D-Calumet, sent a letter to Snyder asking him to stay his decision and reconsider the future of the facility because of the hardship the closure will cause for communities, workers and their families.

Dianda issued the following statement: “My western U.P. communities and constituents directly affected by the closure of Ojibway Correctional Facility would find themselves in a world of hurt if Ojibway closes, so I am asking Gov. Snyder to stay his decision and reconsider closing this facility.

“Gogebic County schools could lose more than $700,000 in state aid, the hospital would lose more than $1 million in broken contracts, and corrections workers would have to drive more than 100 miles one way to transfer to another facility.

“If this facility closes, the county would need the full force of the administration’s assistance in order to recover economically. The consequences of closing this facility far outweigh the benefits. This hasty decision to close Ojibway must be reconsidered while looking at other areas of the state that can more easily absorb the impacts of a facility closure,” he said.

Sit-down with Dianda

“This is going to devastate the entire western end of the Upper Peninsula,” Dianda told the Daily Globe in an interview Friday morning. He called Ojibway’s prison closure “the worst thing that we could have happen. In the whole U.P. right now, we have a lot of economic crises going on.”

Dianda said he voted against the state budget in June that included a line in the Department of Corrections budget calling for an $18.5 million reduction, in effect the closure of one of the state’s prisons.

“There comes a big consequence with these budgets. This is what happens when you vote for budgets that have cuts in them,” said Dianda.

He said the closure would have wide-ranging effects. “Once we get a closure it affects the tax base, the housing market, our local schools, our businesses, our hospital. This affects everything. That’s why we’re asking the governor to reconsider this. ... We’re asking them to reconsider this because this is a hardship like no other.”

If Ojibway closes

“If they’re going to stand with their decision to close this prison permanently, then we want something better than we have right now,” said Dianda.

He shared a few ideas that could repurpose the facility such as a mental health treatment center or one dedicated to opioid addiction.

“We’ve got Gogebic Community College over here that needs a training center,” said Dianda. “We need to have economic development that is pumped into our local county from (the Michigan Economic Development Corporation) to start businesses and get things up and running. We have a big ask for multi-million dollars to complete this Iron Belle Trail.

“We have to look at all of these things and start asking them what are they going to do to help us from the harm they caused us.”

Dianda questioned the true savings of cutting $18.5 million to cut a prison from the state’s $57 billion budget.

“We’ve got to get back to how we’re spending the taxpayers’ money. ... We think we’re going to save the state money by shutting down a facility in Gogebic County for $18.5 million? It doesn’t make any sense. This is going to impact us like nothing other that has happened on the west end since the mines closed.”

He said the closure will cost the state in money toward all sorts of benefits for those out of work and-or living below the poverty line.

“What about our local schools? Every child in these three schools brings about $7,600 per head. So when these families start moving out and are pulling these kids out to these other districts, where’s it going to leave us in the end?”

Reasons questioned

Diandi debunked the DOC’s claim that it was too hard to hire the needed counselors in the U.P.

“I think that’s a very lame excuse that they say they couldn’t find people to fill jobs in the mental health field,” he said. “Those positions are high-dollar positions — $30, $40, $50 an hour jobs. I think it’s a lame excuse that they couldn’t get people to come up here and work.”

Dianda also questioned the state’s move to decrease its budget by closing prisons.

“Shrinking the state prison system will mean more criminals will end up in our county jails that are already busy enough,” he said, adding it effectively shifts the burden of paying for incarceration from the state to the county.

“This is all coming to a town near us, because when they reduce the size of corrections, these folks are coming into our county jail systems,” Dianda said.

Call for the Governor

“We’re asking the governor to come up here with his team. We have a crisis up here with people that are going to be displaced. We have communities that are devastated with economic trouble. We need his help,” said Dianda. “We need to have him come up here with his team, on the ground, looking at it.”


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