Gov. Walz's budget would fund prison security upgrades, about 125 more corrections officers
ST. PAUL — Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz is answering calls for more corrections officers with a proposal to hire about 125 more.
Walz included funding for the officers in his two-year, $111 million state budget request for the Department of Corrections. The proposal also includes money for prison security upgrades and offender services, among other things.
“My responsibility as governor is (to protect) the citizens of Minnesota,” Walz said Tuesday. “That means making sure people are safe in their communities and making sure that those corrections officers are safe in the jobs that they do for Minnesotans. It also means that those inmates who are under our supervision and care remain safe, too.”
Here are some highlights of what Walz is proposing for the Department of Corrections:
- Around $45 million to hire more corrections officers and staff, replace or upgrade infrastructure and IT security systems, and continue offender programming.
- About $28 million to maintain current staffing levels and raise employee pay.
- Almost $8.5 million to provide medical and mental health care for offenders and implement an electronic health records system.
- About $8 million to create a pretrial supervision unit for people who are awaiting trial. The DOC only provides post-sentencing supervision right now.
- $2 million to fund transportation services for children of incarcerated parents, improve offender parenting skills and reintegrate indigenous offenders into their communities.
The governor’s proposal comes at a violent time in the state prison system.
There were 120 convictions for assaults on corrections officers from July 2017 to July 2018, according to DOC data. At the Stillwater prison, assaults more than doubled. At Oak Park Heights, they increased by about 74 percent.
Corrections officer Joseph Gomm was allegedly killed by an inmate at the Stillwater prison in July. In September, Oak Park Heights corrections officer Joe Parise died of a medical emergency after responding to an attack on another officer.
Attracting more workers
The union that represents corrections officers has said at least 300 more officers are needed to properly staff state prisons.
Walz’s proposal would provide funding for 120 corrections officers and six lieutenants. The DOC currently has the money to hire 90 corrections officers, but those positions have not been filled.
“We’re sitting with big vacancies,” said DOC Commissioner Paul Schnell, “so we’re going to have to hire more than 200 between now and the end of the next biennium.”
The DOC would increase the starting salary for corrections officers under Walz’s proposal. That would make the jobs more competitive with those in county jails, Schnell said.
“I think ultimately if we address that, get our bodies up … reduce our prison population, I think it will be a lot easier to attract (workers),” Schnell said.
Bonding proposal coming
Walz said he will unveil a $1.27 billion bonding bill proposal next week. He is recommending $38.8 million for the DOC.
The DOC would receive $20 million to chip away at a deferred maintenance backlog. The other $18.8 million would pay for infrastructure improvements at state prisons in Lino Lakes, Stillwater, St. Cloud, Red Wing and Togo.