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House passes private prison prohibition

(House Photography file photo)
(House Photography file photo)

— UPDATED at 9:22 p.m. following the vote

Minnesota’s only privately owned prison is the Prairie Correctional Facility, built by the city of Appleton.

The 1,600-bed, medium-security prison opened in 1992, and although maintained, has been vacant since closing in 2010.

Rep. Dan Wolgamott (DFL-St. Cloud) said he has several reasons for it to stay closed, but foremost on his list: “Public safety is not for sale.”

“Criminal justice is a core responsibility of our state government. It should be done by those who are accountable to the public, not who are incentivized by profits,” he said at a news conference prior to Thursday’s House floor session.

Wolgamott sponsors HF1200 that would ban the Department of Corrections from housing inmates in privately owned jails and prisons.

As amended twice, the House passed the bill 70-61 late Thursday. It now goes to the Senate.

House DFL Press Conference 3/23/23

Privately owned prisons have a business model that incentivizes keeping prisoners incarcerated longer, Wolgamott said, and that runs counter to the state’s efforts to rehabilitate people and reintegrate them into society.

“Providing public safety is a core responsibility of government. Minnesotans deserve a corrections system that keeps them safe by reducing recidivism” House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) said in a statement. “Corporations are required to put their profits first. Prison corporations have a record of being more dangerous for staff and incarcerated individuals. It's time for us to take a clear stand and say that private prisons will not be allowed to operate in Minnesota.”

Rep. Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) unsuccessfully offered an amendment that would have allowed the Department of Corrections to house inmates at the Prairie Correctional Facility, provided the department leases the space and staffs it exclusively with public employees.

He said the Appleton prison is much newer than any of the state’s other 11 prisons and would therefore provide better services to inmates, help relieve overcrowding at other prisons, and may delay or prevent the need to build another prison. It’d also boost employment in the area.

Wolgamott said those reasons were not compelling enough to overcome the disadvantages of using the facility: it’s too far from a major hospital, which would jeopardize inmate safety; and it’s too far from the metropolitan area, where many of the inmates’ families would likely be living.


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