Talk of using Appleton prison underway at the state Legislature

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Earlier this month the Swift County’s Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding with Goff Public to provide government and public relations services to help with promoting use of Appleton’s empty prison.

Their action came in anticipation that the Legislature could renew the conversation about the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) using the vacant 1,600-bed prison to relieve overcrowding in state prisons.

It would also allow the DOC to take nearly 500 state prisoners sitting in county jails and place them in a facility where they would have access to state education programs. Those programs are aimed at teaching inmates skills that will help them avoid breaking the law again when they are out and ending up back in prison. County jails have no such programs.

The county’s anticipation of the Appleton prison again being on the agenda was well timed. Republicans at the Legislature, led by Rep. Tony Cornish, R- Vernon Center, are leading the discussion about how the Prairie Correctional Facility could meet state prison needs.

Cornish, who is the chair of the state House’s Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee, also led the effort in the House last year. He has toured the Appleton prison and believes it can meet the state’s prison needs.

Last year’s legislative effort to reopen the prison either through the state’s purchase of it or through a lease ran into significant opposition from those who wanted to reduce the prison population through sentencing reform. Far too many people who are non-violent drug offenders are needlessly sitting in jail, they argued. Too many who are in jail are minorities who face a higher likelihood of ending up in jail than whites who commit similar crimes, they say.

Opponents of the Prairie Correctional Facility also are adamantly against state tax dollars going to “enrich” a private prison corporation through a lease arrangement. CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America, owns the prison.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has also opposed use of the Appleton prison, favoring instead sentencing reform to reduce the number of inmates sitting in jail as well as reducing the number headed to prison in the future....


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