Earlier on Friday, we posted Dayton nixes private prison lease, public prison expansion; Swift County & lobbyists still at it, an entry that we updated with a tweet by an organizer for ISAIAH-MN, a faith-based organization working on criminal justice and equity issues.
One of the legislative architects of the plan to re-open the facility, state representative Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, shared and responded to the Don Davis article on his Facebook page:
Fact: the state needs more prison space. Fact: Appleton prison has adequate facilities. Fact: utilizing the prison would bring 200-600 well paying union jobs to a county with the second highest unemployment rate in the state. Fact: there is broad bipartisan support in the legislature. [emphasis added]
And yet it appears the Governor and public unions are fighting against this plan. Incredible. I'm absolutely stunned.
Facts about Swift County unemployment
While Miller asserts as fact the notion that leasing the privately-owned prison would bring jobs to "a county with the second highest unemployment rate in the state," data available through a mapping tool at the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest that Swift County is nothing of the sort. (Select Minnesota on the pulldown menu and November 2015 here).
Here's a screenshot of the map of unemployment by county in Minnesota in November 2015, the latest month for which data is available on the mapping tool, We've hovered our mouse over Swift County, which had an unemployment rate of 4.3 percent:
As one can see from the legend, other counties--especially in the northern part of the state, have higher rates. Koochiching County's rate is the highest at 8.8 percent:
We found the same county unemployment rates on MN DEED's County Unemployment Rates, November 2015(Not seasonally adjusted) page.
Here are all the counties with a higher unemployment rate than Swift County in November 2015, according to results obtained via the BLS county unemployment mapping tool, in alphabetical order (we number them for counting purposes only):
- Aitkin County 5.6
- Carlton County 4.4
- Cass County 6.0
- Clearwater Co 7.7
- Crow Wing Co 4.9
- Hubbard County 5.8
- Itasca County 7.2
- Kanabec County 5.2
- LOTW County 4.7
- Mahnomen Co 4.5
- Marshall Co 5.4
- Mille Lacs Co 4.7
- Morrison Co 4.7
- Pine County 4.4
- Red Lake Co 5.1
- Saint Louis Co 4.9
- Wadena County 5.0
That puts Swift County at number 18 statewide--and given the cluster of high unemployment in the Northeastern corner of the state, the facts make us wonder why Representative Miller wasn't out beating a loud drum for a special session for laid-off steelworkers or other state efforts to relieve these seventeen counties ahead in the misery queue.
Granted, Swift County has the highest unemployment rate in Representative Miller's district--but we have to ask why an unemployment rate should trump other solutions to the state's increased number of inmates. The Davis article notes that ">Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission last month approved a plan to reduce sentences for many drug offenders, which would reduce pressure on packed prisons[,]" while the ISAIAH MN organizer praised an investment in recovery beds.
Perhaps Miller can share where he found his "facts" --and notion that the only solution for prison populations is more prison space. Meanwhile, will he be suggesting government spending to solve unemployment issues in all those other unfortunate counties?
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