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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

A Michigan judge said he’d expedite a lawsuit challenging the closure of Ojibway Correctional Facility in the state’s upper peninsula.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Marenisco Township is suing the state Department of Corrections over its decision to close Ojibwe. Township Supervisor Richard Bouvette said the department didn’t pay proper mind to the devastating economic impact the facility’s closure could have.

The suit claims that such an impact was never considered by the Department of Corrections—or that if it was, it didn’t factor into the agency’s decision.

The Free Press quotes department spokesman Chriz Gautz as refusing comment, citing pending litigation as a reason. However, Gautz did admit that, while the state never conducted an economic impact study, it knew the closure would have an adverse effect on Marenisco Township and other neighboring communities.

Jail cell; image by Ichigo121212, via Pixaby, CC0.
Jail cell; image by Ichigo121212, via Pixaby, CC0.

“We know closures are a challenging time, both for staff at the facility and at other facilities in the region that will be impacted,” wrote Corrections Director Heidi Washington in an email.

“We are going to do everything we can to support them through this process.”

While Washington said there’s no ‘single factor’ that led to the state’s determination, Gautz added that it’s difficult to hire or relocate qualified mental health providers to a place as isolated as Marenisco Township.

Gautz stressed that Ojibway houses many ‘model’ prisoners who are approaching their parole dates. Since inmates tend to be well-behaved, the department’s questioned the sense in ‘rewarding’ its detainees with housing in a far-flung corner of Michigan’s sparsely-inhabited upper peninsula.

Some local politicians have been critical of the department’s move to close Ojibway, including state Rep. Scott Dianda, of Michigan’s 110th district.

“We are going to make sure it’s loud and clear for the governor and the Department of Corrections that they did the wrong thing by closing this facility,” Dianda said.

“It would mean that they’re taking jobs that are absolutely necessary for this community and they’re actually tearing homes apart and they’re causing people to uproot from their hometowns,” added Crystal Suzik, a Marenisco resident and organizer of the ‘Save Our Communities’ fundraiser dinner.

On Friday, the township asked for a temporary restraining order to halt the planned closure.

Plaintiffs say the suit is “necessary to save jobs and the economy in Marenisco Township.”

Lansing attorney Sean Gallagher, who represents both Bouvette and the township, said his clients “do not agree that the decision by the Michigan Department of Corrections for closure of the Ojibway Correctional Facility complies with Michigan and United States law.”

But Michigan Court of Claims Judge Stephen Borrello, while sympathetic, said the township hadn’t provided an “adequate legal basis” for an injunction.

Bouvette says that, in the meantime, Marenisco Township has been forced into a state of emergency—the owner of the only gas station in town moved out in response to Ojibway’s probable closure. Marenisco’s governing board is planning to operate the gas station itself until a new operator can be found.

The prison, writes the Detroit Free Press, currently employs about 203 people, over half of whom are corrections officers.

Sources

Judge refuses to immediately halt planned closure of prison in Upper Peninsula

Northern Michigan township goes to court to stop Ojibway prison closure

‘Save Our Communities’ fights the closure of the Ojibway Correctional Facility

Why Michigan is closing Ojibway Correctional Facility in the U.P.

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