Casperson urges honest discussion about prison closures

Sen. Tom Casperson

Sen. Tom Casperson

LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Tom Casperson has expressed ongoing concern about prison cost reform, including Tuesday’s announcement to close the Ojibway Correctional Facility located in the Upper Peninsula’s Gogebic County.

Many are hailing the closure as an indication of positive trends in law enforcement; Casperson disagrees.

“This is a game of cups and ball where the state is simply hiding the true costs of closing down prison facilities,” said Casperson, R-Escanaba. “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.”

Casperson previously presented a plan to the Michigan Department of Corrections that would have saved the state money while at the same time ensuring local communities are not left to subsidize the closure. However, this was not the desired approach because it failed to promote what Casperson called the false narrative that “recidivism is at an all-time low.”

Casperson said that public safety and the state budget aren’t the only things at stake with this closure.

“The Ojibway facility supported more than 200 employees, as well as all the people in the community who served those workers,” Casperson said. “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 UP to ensure the community can survive.”

According to the Department of Corrections, the Ojibway Correctional Facility is scheduled to close Dec. 1 of this year. The roughly 800 inmates will be transported to other facilities around the state.