In an October 23, 2014 letter to the editor of the Montevideo American News, a Tim Miller supporter wrote:
. . . What has Andrew Falk done to help the community of Appleton recover? Nothing. The Prairie Correctional Facility still sits empty while Falk has voted again and again to use $111 million of our tax money to build state-run corrections facilities in St. Peter and Moose Lake. . .
The talking point echoes a lit piece that Miller has been distributing in Appleton (see embedded PDF below) while sharing Miller's confusion of civil commitment with incarceration.
It's another illustration of Miller's tendency to write a check with his mouth that his facts can't cover.
Neither facility at Moose Lake and St. Peter is part of the Department of Corrections (DOC), but rather the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP), which is operated by the Department of Human Services. They're not "state-run corrections facilities." (The DOC runs a separate facility in Moose Lake).
Likewise, the Minnesota Security Hospital is also run by the Department of Human Services. The DHS website notes under the heading Forensic Services:
The Minnesota Security Hospital, a secure treatment facility located in St. Peter, serves people who have been committed by the court as mentally ill and dangerous.
These are not "corrections facilities." It's not the same pot of money; to claim that funding one robs from the other is a bait and switch.
It also signals that Miller is utterly clueless about the complex legal issues surrounding the Minnesota Sex Offender Program. A fine primer to the program can be found in Briana Bierschbach's MinnPost article from this summer, The Minnesota Sex Offender Program, explained:
Why are sex offenders in MSOP called “clients”? In short: because they can’t be called prisoners. In fact, most — but not all — people in MSOP have completed prison sentences for sex offenses, and have been sent to MSOP for continued treatment through a process called “civil commitment.”
So what is “civil commitment”? When a sex offender nears the end of their prison sentence in Minnesota, the Department of Corrections puts them through a screening process, referring those who may be appropriate for commitment to county attorneys. County attorneys then determine whether to file a petition for commitment with the district courts, where a judge makes the final call.
The Big Con: why Miller's accusations are a bait-and-switch
The Prairie Correction Facility, on the other hand, is a private facility owned by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which bought the for-profit prison built by the Appleton Prison Corporation in the mid-1990s after the project defaulted on its bonds.
CCA, a publically-held corporation, closed the facility in early 2010 after business dried up. The Star Tribune reported in Appleton prison to shut down on Feb. 1:
. . .The prisoners, all men, tend to have good conduct records and don't need intensive programs such as sex-offender treatment, he said.
The medium-security prison housed 1,200 Minnesota inmates as recently as two years ago, but that figure has dropped as the state's prison population has flattened out and more beds have been added to state facilities.
The for-profit company was able to make a profit by taking on healthy, non-violent inmates. It's not set up for the complex needs of those clients at the Moose Lake and St. Peter treatment facilities.
Not funding facilities at St. Peter and Moose Lake would not have caused those individuals to be held in a private prison in Appleton. It's a bait and switch.
It's also kin to other examples in the cycle where Miller's outrage about stuff is profoundly discontented from common sense. As we've noted earlier:
He couldn't have been bothered to read the Women's Economic Security Act. He was outraged about funding for the Terrestrial Invasive Species Research Center, accusing incumbent state representative Andrew Falk of imposing new regulations on farmers, when in fact, the Center is researching new tools for farmers to use in fighting superweeds.
In the same radio debate, Miller deplored negative campaigning via independent expenditures by outside groups, even though he's shared some of these materials on social media and done negative campaigning of his own.
In short, this isn't a bug, it's a feature of Miller's approach to policy and decision-making.
Bipartisan bonding, rural legislative votes
Moreover, as with all bonding projects, this year's DHS spending at St. Peter and Moose Lake was passed on bipartisan votes; ayes included West Central Minnesota area Republican legislators like Torrey Westrom (Elbow Lake) and Gary Dahms (Redwood Falls) in the Senate, and Chris Swedzinski (Ghent) and Paul Anderson (Starbuck) in the Minnesota House's roll call.
Characterizing the vote as "for Minneapolis" is absurd, regardless of the party. On the other hand, Dahms joined Miller at a Mike McFadden meet-and-greet today in Olivia; perhaps Miller took some time to scold Dahms for being "For Minneapolis" as the Montevideo letter writer framed the vote.
DOJ Environmental Assessment on a Proposal to Award a Contract Includes Appleton
Perhaps spending state corrections money at the private prison will end up as a dead issue during the next session. Prairie Correctional Facility is one of four private facilities listed on an "Environmental Assessment on a Proposal to Award a Contract to . . . One Private Contractor" for low-security adult male criminal aliens. An notice of the availability of the report was published Friday in the Federal Register.
According to the notice, the Environmental Assessment, made available for comment on Halloween, is available for comment through December 1, 2014. A webpage on the federal Bureau of Prisons about contract prisons notes:
Contract prisons are secure institutions operated by private corporations. The majority of BOP inmates in private prisons are sentenced criminal aliens who may be deported upon completion of their sentence.
In Friday's Federal Register (Federal Register/Vol. 79, No. 211/Friday, October 31, 2014), the federal Department of Justice issued this notice:
Notice of Availability of an Environmental Assessment on a Proposal to Award a Contract for New Low Security Beds to One Private Contractor to House Approximately 2,000 Federal, Low- Security, Adult Male, Non-US Citizen, Criminal Aliens at a Contractor-Owned, Contractor-Operated Correctional Facility under the CAR 15, Requirement B initiative.
AGENCY: Federal Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Department of Justice.
ACTION: Environmental Assessment.
SUMMARY: The U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) announces the availability of the Criminal Alien Requirement 15, Requirement B Environmental Assessment (EA) for the proposal to award one contract to house up to 2,000 federal, low-security, adult males, non-US citizen, criminal aliens within one existing contractor-owned, contractor-operated facility. . . .
The proposed action is to award one contract to house up to 2,000 federal low-security, adult male, non-US citizen, criminal aliens at an existing contractor-owned and contractor-operated correctional facility. Under the Proposed Action, the selected contractor would be required to operate the facility in a manner consistent with the mission and requirements of the BOP. All inmate services would be developed in a manner that complies with the BOP’s contract requirements, as well as applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations. In addition, the facility would be within proximity, and have access to, ambulatory, fire and police protection services.
The federal inmates assigned to this facility primarily would consist of inmates with sentences of 90 months or less remaining to be served. Inmates are anticipated to be federal, low-security, adult male, non-US citizen, criminal aliens; however, the BOP may designate any inmate within its custody to serve their sentence in this facility.
Four existing privately owned and operated correctional facilities, one in Minnesota, two in Oklahoma, and one in Ohio, met the evaluation criteria of the BOP’s solicitation for CAR 15 Requirement B. Each of the following existing facilities has been evaluated in this EA. In addition, the No Action Alternative is evaluated to determine baseline conditions and comply with the provisions of NEPA.
• Prairie Correctional Facility. Located in Appleton, Minnesota.
• Northeast Ohio Correctional Center. Located in Youngstown, Ohio.
• Great Plains Correctional Facility. Located in Hinton, Oklahoma.
• Diamondback Correctional Facility. Located in Watonga, Oklahoma.
No other facilities are under consideration by the BOP. Although the four alternatives have been evaluated within the EA, an environmentally preferred alternative has not been identified due to the pending contracting action . . . .
It appears as though the Appleton prison is a contender for a federal contract. It does not appear that the state legislators would have much involvement in this deal between the federal government and CCA.
2011: California dreaming in Appleton
This isn't the first time that the possibility of re-opening the prison has been raised. In 2011, City Pages reported:
Minnesota Independent reported about the prison corporation's plans to house California inmates in Appleton based on a November 2010 posting by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to that effect.
At the time, Representative Falk told City Pages:
City Pages called Falk, a DFL-er representing District 20, to ask if that was true. According to the legislator, CCA officials denied that there are plans to re-open the jail.
"The facility is sitting there idle," Falk said. "We want the jobs back."
He says that the Appleton facility was one of the largest property taxpayers in Swift County, Minnesota, since it was created in the early 1990s -- and also one of the top employers in the area.
"It could be a couple hundred to three hundred jobs," he says.
The jail closed in 2010 because Minnesota lawmakers expanded Minnesota correctional facilities in Faribault and Moose Lake, lessening the need for a private facility in Appleton.
The contract never materialized for CCA, and the possibility of prisoners from California is a dim one at best these days. Under a court order to reduce overcrowding while not moving prisoners out of state, California began to move inmates to private prisons within the Golden State, Paige St. John reported in 2013.
CCA and political influence
For an older look at the political influence behind prison privatization, check out Jon Collins' report in the old Minnesota Independent that prompted City Pages query.
Some CCA donations to Minnesota campaigns might be trickling into Minnesota elections this year, Bluestem has disocvered.. Open Secrets's database for the Republican State Legislative Committee reveals that CCA gave the group two contributions this year ($10,000 on May 16, 2014 and $25,000 on February 21, 2014).
On Halloween, the Republican State Legislative Committee handed out $30,000 to the trick or treaters at the Minnesota Jobs Coalition Legislative Fund (first October 31, 2014 24-hour notice pdf here). The candy joins an earlier $250,000 sent to the group's St. Paul office (Pre-General Report pdf here).
Questions about the ethics of private prisons prompted the launch of the National Prison Divestment Campaign, with $60 million pulled earlier this year, Mother Jones magazine reported in April.
Here's Miller's flyer:
The notice in the Federal Register:
Photo: Via KARE 11, the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center, which includes the Security Hospital.
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