Yesterday, the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) announced the closure of the Ojibway Correctional Facility located in Gogebic County. The nearly 50-year-old facility, originally a camp, was converted to a prison in 2000. The correctional facility is designed to house 1,162 people convicted of low-level offenses. The Ojibway currently has a prison population of less than 800, indicating it is operating at about two-thirds capacity, and there is sufficient capacity in other facilities to safely move the remaining population elsewhere.

Michigan’s prison population has fallen over the past decade. According to the most recent data available from MDOC, the prison population has declined to under 39,000 people this year. This is a 24 percent drop since the prison population peaked in 2006.

The MDOC attributed the declining prison population to the Offender Success Model that emphasizes educational and vocational training for incarcerated people and people on parole and probation. The declining prison population has also come with reduced recidivism rates that have fallen from 49.4 percent in 2006 to 28 percent in 2016.

In addition, overall prison intake has fallen, and parole rates are up. All of these trends are positive, and we are supporting additional reforms that will help them continue.

While Safe & Just Michigan (SJM) celebrates the falling prison population in Michigan, we also realize that a prison closure also can mean job losses and uncertainty for the surrounding community—particularly small, rural communities like those that staff the Ojibway facility. While we disagree with the policy choices that made many small, rural communities in Michigan economically dependent on prison jobs, we believe that that the transition away from this model should be ordered and supported with community health and safety at its center.

With that in mind, we are pleased that the MDOC has made a commitment to supporting the employment needs the 203 employees at the Ojibway Correctional Facility via the opportunity to transfer to another facility, and we urge the state to explore other ways to promote economic development in Gogebic County to support this transition.

We are pleased to witness the continuing decline in Michigan’s over-reliance on incarceration. Our 2015 report, 10,000 fewer Michigan prisoners, provided a roadmap to safely reducing the state’s reliance on incarceration as a public safety strategy. We know there are more smart safety solutions available to Michigan’s decision makers that can contribute to right-sizing the state’s prison population. SJM supports policies that promote the investment in the safety, health, and well-being of all Michigan residents.