MDOC documents explain reasons for Ojibway closure


August 30, 2018

MARENISCO — Former State Representative and current Upper Peninsula Senate candidate Ed McBroom has released documents he received following his demand for answers from the Michigan Department of Corrections regarding the planned Dec. 1 closure of the Ojibway Correctional Facility in Marenisco.

McBroom filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking all documentation considered by the DOC relating to the economic impact of closing the prison on the community of Marenisco, Gogebic County and the western U.P.

“I know I will be joining many in closely examining all of these documents in light of their critical importance to the community to ensure that they comply with both the letter and the spirit of the law which requires the state to ‘fully consider’ the economic impact of the closure on the community,” he said.

“I welcome the community to immediately join me in reviewing the documents with an objective and exhaustive eye to ensure the department did indeed fully consider the dire economic consequences to the community, such as the profound adverse impact on our schools, on the hospital, on the housing market and complied in good faith with the law,” McBroom added.

“With the extreme consequences it is facing, this community absolutely deserves a good faith analysis that complies with the obvious and intended spirit of the law,” he said.

Included in the information are talking points from the DOC why Ojibway was chosen for closure. They include:

Why was Ojibway Correctional chosen for closure?

There was no one reason for the closure.

The MDOC looks at a variety of factors when choosing a facility for closure. Those include the age of the facility; cost to operate; need for renovations and improvements; bed space vacancies by custody level and staff impact.

Michigan’s decreasing prison population has put the department in the position of being able to safely close a facility without an impact on public safety, or the safety of staff or prisoners.

Due to the location of the facility, transportation costs are higher than average. It also makes it difficult for family and friends to visit prisoners at this facility which is five miles from the Wisconsin border.

The remoteness of the facility also presents a unique challenge as if there were ever an emergency or natural disaster; the nearest facility to send staff to assist is more than 100 miles away.

The budget passed by the legislature requires the department to close a facility and has cut the department’s budget by $19 million to reflect that.

No single factor was the determinate factor when making this decision, but based on weighing all the criteria above, Ojibway was chosen for closure.

Were other facilities considered?

As part of this process, the MDOC looked across its operations for efficiencies, as well as the possibility of closing a facility. When the department looked at a host of factors, and looked at other facilities in comparison, Ojibway was chosen for closure.

What were some of those factors?

We took many factors into account: The age of the facility (47 years old.) The role the facility plays in the department’s Offender Success model.

Lack of programming ability – the DOC has been unable to do more advanced programming there because staffing for professional positions like health care and mental health are extremely challenging. It also limits the type of prisoners that can be sent there, because the programming they need does not exist there. We have not been able to offer substance abuse treatment or mental health programs.

The cost to run it: (At $23.7 million per year, it is one of the most expensive level I facilities and is 8 percent higher than the average level I facility.

The needed improvements: ($3.7 million in improvements over the next five years, which ranks it 14th highest among 30 facilities.)

Will you be closing any other prisons as part of this plan?

This is the only prison closure the DOC is planning. But through the department’s Offender Success model, the goal is to continue to bring down the state’s prison population safely. While there are no plans to close additional facilities at this time because there are not enough vacant beds to do so; the department will continue with its Offender Success model of providing quality education and vocational training to prisoners.

This will be the third prison closure in three years. All three have come since the creation of the Offender Success model, which has saved taxpayers more than $60 million per year.

How much will this save?

There will be an expected savings of $19 million, reflected in the Fiscal Year 2019 state budget. That is how much the legislature cut the DOC budget this year to account for this closure.

How many people will lose their jobs?

That will take time to fully know, as some union employees with seniority have the ability to bump to another facility. Others may retire. All options will be considered to minimize the impact on staff.

There are 203 employees at Ojibway, of which 116 are officers. There are more than 10 officers at Ojibway eligible for retirement. There are about 20 officer vacancies at the next closest facility and another more than 15 officers there that could retire.

We have about 700 vacancies across the state for officer positions, so we can absorb all of them and none would have to lose their jobs, but we understand that the vast majority will have to either commute much farther or move to fill those positions.

When the Pugsley Correctional Facility closed in 2016, there were 230 employees and 44 were laid off. About half of those were offered positions in the department but declined to take them.

When West Shoreline closed earlier this year, there were 281 employees and 33 were laid off. Of the 33, there were 21 that were offered positions, but declined to take them.

So with the last two prison closures, there were 511 employees impacted and 434 continued their employment with the department.

But as more facilities close, we realize it becomes more difficult to not have an impact on employees and the local community.

Where will the prisoners go?

There are about 840 prisoners. There is a process in place for prisoners to be transported to new facilities prior to the closure. The prisoner movements will be determined by their security level and programming needs.

Do we have any plans for the site right now?

There are no immediate plans for the site.

What kind of economic impact will this have on the community?

That will take time to measure, but of the 203 employees at Ojibway, we know that 155 live in Gogebic County. There are also 19 who live in Wisconsin.

If the DOC were to eventually sell the property the facility sits on, it would return to the tax rolls, benefitting the local tax base.

Did you talk with area lawmakers or local government leaders before making this decision? If not, why not?

This decision was made by the DOC based on its operational needs. It also heard from numerous stakeholders in the community and listened to their concerns and their suggestions. But in the end, this was the decision that best met the operational needs of the department, and its responsibility to provide public safety at the most efficient cost to taxpayers.

Does this closure still give you the 500-700 bed cushion you said you wanted when the legislature was pushing for you to close a facility last time?


Why make this announcement now?

There is no good date to announce a closure for the staff affected by this. But as soon as we felt we were able to make this announcement, we wanted to do so in order to be as transparent as possible. This will also enable our employees to have more time to prepare and make the necessary arrangements, before the start of the school year, etc.


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