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Dayton rejects plan to reopen Appleton prison

The Appleton prison has sat empty since Minnesota and other governments removed prisoners from it in 2010. (TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO)

ST. PAUL — Gov. Mark Dayton will not ask legislators to fix a prison overcrowding problem by borrowing state money to reopen a west-central Minnesota private prison or to expand existing state prisons like his corrections commissioner has suggested, he said Thursday.

“It will be a multifaceted approach,” he said, promising more details Friday when he reveals his proposal to fund public works projects statewide.

After announcing his proposals to fund clean-water projects, he also told reporters that his public works bill will include money for sex offender treatment centers.

The prison issue has been discussed in a prison overcrowding task force made up of legislators and people from the judicial and law enforcement communities. They have considered solutions ranging from building new prison space to giving criminals shorter sentences, but have yet to make final recommendations.

Opening a shuttered private prison in Appleton has been proposed by area government officials. The proposal is to lease the facility to the state, which would staff it with state employees.

The idea gained traction from many Republicans and some Democrats, but faces stiff opposition from other quarters, including labor unions.

Swift County and the city of Appleton will continue to work to promote the advantages of the Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton, according to Swift County Administrator Mike Pogge-Weaver.

“We’re certainly pleased that expanding Rush City or any other facility is not being considered by the State of Minnesota, especially considering there is a vacant and ready to be occupied building here in Swift County,’’ said Pogge-Weaver Thursday when informed of the governor’s statements.

Pogge-Weaver and other members of the local task force will be in St. Paul on Friday for meeting of the prison population task force convened by the Legislature. They will continue to make their point that if the state needs more prison space, the Appleton facility remains the most logical answer.

The prison has sat empty since Minnesota and other governments removed prisoners from it in 2010.

Also not getting into Dayton’s plan is Correction Commissioner Tom Roy’s proposal to spend more than $40 million to expand existing prisons to provide enough space.

The excess prisoners, Dayton said, are “housed mostly in county jails and they are starting to be overloaded as well.”

He made no predictions about whether the plan he will announce Friday can pass the Legislature. “I don’t know if in an election year if we can deal with some or all of these issues, but we need to start.”

The Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission last month approved a plan to reduce sentences for many drug offenders, which would reduce pressure on packed prisons. The prison task force has discussed other sentence reductions, too, some of which may take legislative action.

On the sex offender issue, the problem is that hospital treatment facilities look so much like prisons that a federal judge last year ordered the state to find ways to release offenders who already had served their prison terms.

Without giving details, Dayton on Thursday said that his Friday bonding proposal will include money for “alternative treatment centers” that would be less prison-like.

The governor hinted that the sex offender treatment facilities might be expensive. “It will be a big swallow for me.”

Dayton would not say how much he plans to seek in bonding money, but estimates have ranged up to $1.5 billion.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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