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Minimum-security inmates stand at attention at the Minnesota Correctional Facility – Willow River, a Challenge Incarceration Program site. It and the other “boot camp” site, at Togo, will close because of a budget shortfall. (Photo: Minnesota Department of Corrections)
Minimum-security inmates stand at attention at the Minnesota Correctional Facility – Willow River, a Challenge Incarceration Program site. It and the other “boot camp” site, at Togo, will close because of a budget shortfall. (Photo: Minnesota Department of Corrections)

Budget woes force 2 prison closures

Two minimum security prisons will close because of an anticipated $14 million shortfall in the Minnesota Department of Corrections’ current budget.

The Togo and Willow River prisons are the state’s smallest, with a combined capacity of about 270 inmates. Their budgets, combined, total about $11 million, the agency says.

They host the state’s Challenge Incarceration Program (CIP), often called the prisons’ “boot camps.” There, nonviolent drug and property-crime offenders undergo six months of education and critical-thinking skills training, chemical dependency treatment and rigorous exercise. If successful, they are placed on supervised release for six months.

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Entrance to the Minnesota Correctional Facility – Togo. (Photo: Minnesota Department of Corrections)

Inmates currently serving in that program will be transferred to another minimum-security site, department spokesman Nicholas Kimball said Monday. The boot camp program will continue, though it is not yet known where it will be located.

“Where CIP lands is still being worked out,” Kimball said. “There aren’t answers to those detailed questions just yet.”

The Corrections commissioner has statutory authority to release inmates for medical purposes and for supervised work release, which he has exercised in some cases since the COVID-19 outbreak. However, the agency did not indicate if any Togo or Willow River inmates will be granted immediate work release.

The department did say, however, that most of two prisons’ 99 full-time staff positions will be eliminated. Some of their workers will be retained to continue the CIP program at one or more new sites, the agency said.

The closures are not DOC’s only cost-cutting moves as it struggles to reestablish a balanced budget for its current fiscal year, which ends on June 30, 2021.

An unspecified number of employees in the commissioner’s office and in Central Administrative Services also will lose jobs, the news release says. Meanwhile, DOC also plans to renegotiate some service contracts.

The agency’s total current fiscal year total budget is roughly $611 million. Corrections officials project its budget deficiency is projected to total about $25 million in the next biennium.

While its 2021-22 budget won’t be set until the Legislature meets next year, the agency says the steps it is taking now will help prepare for future economic challenges associated with the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We take these steps out of a commitment to deliver critically needed services that offer opportunity for transformation and a safer Minnesota,” DOC Commissioner Paul Schnell said in the news release.

“While the actions we announced today are immensely difficult, Minnesotans rightly expect that we be responsible stewards of public resources as we fulfill the agency’s mission,” he said.

The agency said it plans to work with staff, labor partners and other stakeholders to develop a comprehensive time line and plan for implementing the changes.

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About Kevin Featherly

Kevin Featherly, who joined BridgeTower Media in mid-2016, is a journalist and former freelance writer who has covered politics, law, business, technology and popular culture for publications and websites in the Twin Cities and nationally since the mid-1990s.

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