Decision on federal prisoners may help PCF effort

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Members of the Legislature’s prison task force toured the Appleton prison last year.
Members of the Legislature’s prison task force toured the Prairie Correctional Facility last year as they considered its possible use by the State of Minnesota. Efforts to get the prison occupied again ran into opposition in Legislature as well as from Gov. Mark Dayton.

Just what the impact of the Obama administration’s announced phase out of the federal government’s use of private prisons will mean for the effort to re-open the Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton is unknown.

But there is renewed hope that the state will consider buying the privately-owned Appleton prison, which could be for sale at a bargain price from owner Correction Corporation of America (CCA.) The corporation’s stock fell 35 percent last Thursday when the announcement was made. CCA owns 74 prison facilities and manages 11 government-owned facilities.

In a memo Thursday to the Bureau of Prisons, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates told the bureau to start reducing “and ultimately ending” the Justice Department’s use of private prisons. The announcement follows a recent Justice Department audit that found that the private facilities have more safety and security problems than government-run ones.

The Obama administration says the declining federal prison population justifies the decision to eventually close privately run prisons. The federal prison population - now at 193,299 - has been dropping due to changes in federal sentencing policies over the past three years. Private prisons hold about 22,100 of these inmates, or 12 percent of the total prison population, the Justice Department said.

The policy change does not cover private prisons used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which hold up to 34,000 immigrants awaiting deportation.

“Private prisons served an important role during a difficult period, but time has shown that they compare poorly to our own Bureau facilities,” Yates wrote in a memo to the acting director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. As private prison contracts come to an end, the bureau is not to renew the contract or it should at least “substantially” reduce its scope, Yates wrote. She did not specify a timeline for when all federal inmates would be in government-owned facilities.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has said the U.S. should move away from using private facilities to house inmates. On Thursday, she tweeted: “Glad to see that the Justice Department is ending the use of private prisons. This is the right step forward.”

Renewed hope

Swift County’s Board of Commissioners is exploring ways it can keep the ball rolling on getting the Appleton prison re-opened, Pogge-Weaver said Monday. It still has Goff Public as its lobbyist at the state Legislature, but has not engaged the company’s services since the session ended last May.

At the board’s Sept. 6, meeting it will discuss options for moving forward with the effort to see the prison reopened, he said...


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