Last year, under very unfortunate circumstances, state leaders closed the Pugsley Correctional Facility to help balance the budget.
I believe that that decision was made in haste and without considering what the prison and its staff were doing to help rehabilitate inmates — and with little thought to the impact the prison’s closure would have on the employees, their families and surrounding communities.
Since then, I have had the pleasure of visiting three other state correctional facilities located in the 37th Senate District. After touring the Kinross facility last year and the Newberry and Chippewa correctional facilities this month, and after meeting with wardens, corrections officers, and some inmates, I am as convinced today as I was last year that our state prisons are doing great things to help rehabilitate and reintroduce inmates back into society.
The Newberry prison, for example, helps to provide education and training for some inmates to become Occupational Safety and Health Administration certified electricians and plumbers. These are viable skills that can help those individuals obtain well-paying jobs that are in high demand. In addition to these vocational trade offerings, Newberry also offers GED and mental health programs.
At Chippewa, academic and vocational programs are also offered, including a program that trains inmates for a future in the food service industry. One training program I found particularly remarkable is one that allows some inmates to train dogs to become service dogs for the blind.
Having visited these places and having talked with their impressive staffs, it is as important to me as it ever has been to make sure that our state correctional facilities are properly funded to ensure the good work they are doing can continue. Further, by making sure the facilities remain open and funded, we can also help ensure the economies of the surrounding communities.
As Pugsley was an economic driver to the village of Kingsley, Fife Lake Township, and Grand Traverse County, so too are Newberry and Chippewa to their communities in Luce and Chippewa counties. These facilities have served the eastern Upper Peninsula for 28 years and 21 years, respectively, supporting those local economies, jobs and schools — not to mention their contributions in rehabilitating inmates.
When it was announced last year that Pugsley was to be closed, I said it was “a place that offers the types of services we seek when looking to improve our state’s correctional system.” The Newberry and Chippewa correctional facilities, I believe, stand as examples of places that offer those types of programs as well.
I am grateful that the Newberry and Chippewa facilities are located in the 37th Senate District, and I am appreciative of the wardens, corrections officers and other staff who do such great work there. I look forward to their serving our part of the state for many, many years to come.