In an email sent to Bluestem Prairie on Thursday in reaction to our post Swift Co hires Goff Public to work on reopening CCA private prison to solve state's inmate binge, Jennifer Munt, AFSCME Council 5's Director of Public Affairs & Public Policy, sent the following statement:
AFSCME will fight this with every tool at our disposal. Private corporations shouldn't profit from human incarceration. Corrections is a core function of government.
This statement sets the stage for a battle between Swift County's lobbyists and Representative Tim Miller, who campaigned on reopening the 1700-bed private prison, which Correction Corporation of America closed in 2010.
AFSCME Council 5 is considered a close ally to Governor Mark Dayton, as its October 2009 endorsement of the maverick candidate--who did not seek DFL endorsement at the party's 2010 convention--gave the veteran political leader's campaign a boost.
Swift County Monitor: Board voted 4-1 to hire PR firm for prison effort
Even within leadership in Swift County, there's a sliver of disagreement about hiring a public affairs firm to lobbying for the re-opening of the prison, the Swift County Monitor reported last week in County votes 4-1 to hire PR firm for prison effort:
Swift County’s Board of Commissioners voted 4 to 1 to hire Goff Public, a Twin Cities public relations and lobbying company, to help it persuade state legislators to house prisoners at the Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton.
Only Commissioner Eric Rudningen, District 5-Kerkhoven, voted against allocating $10,000 from the County Board Discretionary Funds to retain Goff Public. Commissioners Gary Hendrickx, District 1-Appleton; Ed Pederson, District 2-north Benson; Pete Peterson, District 3-south Benson; and Joe Fox, District 4-Hegbert Township voted in favor of the expenditure.
Currently, the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) has about 550 state prisoners in county jails throughout the state, Pogge-Weaver told the board at its meeting Aug. 4. “The DOC doesn’t believe that is an effective way to deal with their inmate population.” The problem is only going to get worse. The DOC estimates that by 2018 there could be 900 to 1,000 inmates in facilities outside their system, he added.
To address the problem of an expanding prison population, the DOC will ask the Minnesota Legislature to approve $85 to $100 million in bonding in 2016 to expand its facility at Rush City by 500 beds, Pogge-Weaver said.
The county has further heard that the DOC will request further bonding in 2018 or 2020 for a second 500-bed expansion, he said.
With the Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton vacant, our region has a compelling story for use of this existing facility versus constructing of new prison space, Pogge-Weaver told commissioners.
DOC opposition to private prisons
It's not just labor's opposition to privately-run prisons that makes the Dayton administration's Department of Corrections hesitate about the Appleton prison. In 2013, a state study of private prison confinement on inmate offender recidivism discovered:
The results showed that offenders who had been incarcerated in a private prison had a greater hazard of recidivism in all 20 models, and the recidivism risk was significantly greater in eight of the models. The evidence presented in this study suggests that private prisons are not more effective in reducing recidivism, which may be attributable to fewer visitation and rehabilitative programming opportunities for offenders incarcerated at private facilities.
An earlier study in 2003 of prisoner perceptions of those opportunities includes a contrast of the actual services themselves.
The issues of "fewer visitation opportunities" is also a problem for securely transporting the prisoners to and from the prison itself, as Appleton, on the state's extreme western prairies, is not served by a four-lane highway. This aspect would remain for the Appleton facility regardless of who owns the campus, which originally a city-owned, non-profit private prison facility.
We're hearing that alternatives to having CCA operate the prison include having the corporation lease or sell the facility to the state. It's been suggested before. The 1994 legislature ordered a study, released in 1995, of the feasibility of the state purchasing the city-owned prison facility, which at the time could house 516 inmates. Pages 4 and 5 consider impact on visitation and the cost of the seven-to-eight hour round-trips to the Twin Cities (pdf here).
In 1996, the state representative then serving the area, the late Chuck Brown, offered a bill to have the state buy the prison; the language did not have a co-author or senate author, and Brown withdrew it within two weeks of its introduction in January. On July 25, 1996, Walter Parker reported in the St. Paul Pioneer Press article, "Appleton to sell prison it built":
The little southwestern Minnesota town of Appleton (pop. 1,500), which built a private prison six years ago hoping to grow its own jobs, is selling the operation after being in default for years.
But the prison remains open and operating at near full capacity, housing 508 prisoners from Minnesota, Idaho and Colorado, according to Warden Hoyt Brill, who arrived two years ago from Colorado with a contingent of inmates.
"We'd like to be around for a while and this looks like our best option," said Brill, referring to the proposed sale of the prison to Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corp. of America, the nation's largest private prison operator.
The proposed sale, for $22.5 million, is outlined in Ramsey County District Court documents filed by the trustee for bondholders who bought $28.4 million in Appleton city bonds in 1990 to finance the prison. The city loaned the proceeds to Appleton Prison Corp., a nonprofit firm that built and operated the institution. . . .(Nexis All-News Database, accessed August 20, 2015)
CCA's poltical influence
CCA is frequently criticized as not only profiting from incarcerating people, but for promoting policies through membership in ALEC (it claims to have left ALEC in 2010) that lead to more crimes punishable by prison sentences. In 2013, Andy Kroll reported in Mother Jones This Is How Private Prison Companies Make Millions Even When Crime Rates Fall. The corporation denies that it promotes broader criminal policy measures.
We reported on November 1, 2014, the corporation did contribute $35,000 to the Republican State Leadership Committee. As we noted in MN Jobs Coalition Legislative Fund's biggest donor in flipping House vows to take Senate, the Republican State Leadership Committee is once more investing in Minnesota.
Photo: The CCA-owned Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton.
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