House approves bill for lease or purchase of Appleton prison

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Before going on its Easter break, the Minnesota House of Representatives approved a bill that calls for the state to either buy or lease the 1,600-bed Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton.

However, passage of the bill in the Republican-controlled House doesn’t mean it will eventually be approved. It now goes to a conference committee between members of the House and state Senate – which is also controlled by Republicans.

However, even if the bill comes out of the Legislature it still has to get signed by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton. So far, Dayton has not favored the state’s purchase or lease of the privately-owned prison.

CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America, is the owner of the prison. It has sat empty since February 2010. CoreCivic does keep a maintenance staff at the prison to keep it ready to use and has made significant investments in improvements over the past seven years.

“It’s been made very clear to us that the department of corrections has a prison bed problem and it doesn’t have enough beds in their system,” state District 17A Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, said. “We have a state-of-the-art facility in Appleton that can service the needs of the State of Minnesota, and utilizing this asset is just good common sense.” Miller is a chief author of the bill. Swift County is in his House district.

Miller’s bill is included as part of a comprehensive public safety proposal that would allow criminals to be housed in non-publicly owned facilities. It also would require the State of Minnesota to enter into a contract to operate and purchase or lease to own the Prairie Correctional Facility in order to address prison bed capacity shortfalls throughout the state.

Use of the Appleton prison would allow the state to remove nearly 500 state prisoners from county jails where they have been housed because Minnesota’s DOC prison beds are full. Those housed in county jails don’t have access to state education programs aimed at teaching inmates skills that will help them avoid breaking the law again when they are out and ending up back in prison.

Dayton has 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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