McBroom: MDOC should explain prison closure plans, engage with public

LANSING, Mich. — Legislation recently introduced by Sen. Ed McBroom would help protect local economies and jobs by requiring the state Department of Corrections (MDOC) to consider the potential economic fallout of correctional facility closures, including holding a public hearing on any proposed action.

Senate Bills 694 and 695 come in the wake of the recent closures of the Ojibway and Pugsley correctional facilities that have negatively impacted communities throughout the Upper Peninsula and the northern Lower Peninsula.

McBroom’s Senate Oversight Committee listened to testimony earlier this year from the state’s Office of the Auditor General that MDOC had not retained sufficient documentation to support the closure of the Ojibway Correctional Facility.

“After hearing the testimony from the auditor general and the Department of Corrections as well as speaking to the surrounding community, it was necessary to establish a process that was more transparent for the community,” said McBroom, R-Vulcan. “The commentary from the auditor general was not related to just the Ojibway closure, as this has been an ongoing problem from the department.

“Communities and legislators have not gotten enough information in the past to be sure that a particular closure is the best choice and not simply a political choice. The net impact on the state should be considered so that we can be sure each closure is the right decision for all of the taxpayers of the state.”

Under the legislation, at least a year before the department would close a state prison, it would have to publicly submit a detailed report on the impact of, and the actual and projected savings from, closing a correctional facility. The report would also have to include information regarding each impacted local community, such as potential job loss from the closure of the correctional facility and current number of unemployed workers and unemployment rates.

“Closing state prisons to satisfy a bottom line without considering its widespread effects on economies, communities, and workers is a haphazard policy in desperate need of improvement,” McBroom said. “I think the Department of Corrections, as well as all who depend on it, would benefit from a more measured approach when it comes to considering prison closures.”

SB 694 would require the department to justify its selection of a correctional facility for closure and a detailed analysis of how the information gleaned from the report would impact the department.

Lastly, the bill would require the department to host a public hearing within 30 days of the report’s release, and at least six months before a prison’s closure, at an adequate facility in the impacted local community to provide the public an opportunity to have its voice heard. And a physical inspection and appraisal must be conducted at any correctional facility the department proposes to close.

SB 695 would coordinate workforce development activities within an impacted local community, such as with Michigan Works! and other organizations, in a similar fashion as what happens when a large private business closes or relocates.

“It is disappointing that MDOC has been unwilling to engage with lawmakers, communities and those whom its operational decisions directly impact,” said McBroom. “Frankly, state bureaucrats should be more considerate, more open, and honest about their prison closure plans, and my legislation will help hold them accountable.”

The bills have been referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety for consideration.

###