UPDATE 10/12/2015: In an email, Lars Negstad, an organizer for ISAIAH MN, confirms that the paper didn't contact the organization for the story. ISAIAH-MN conducted a prayer vigil at the state office building before last month's Prison Population Taskforce informal meeting, and the group is a leader in the coalition seeking criminal justice reform over profiting on a glut of inmates. [end update]
One never knows what editors leave on the news room floor, but based on the copy in a report about re-opening the CCA prison in Appleton, Bluestem finds the usually excellent West Central Tribune reporter Tom Cherveny coming up short.
Economic tipping point triggers prison campaign does a good job of presenting the point of view of those scheming to re-open the Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton. Unfortunately, it also allows those folks to frame and answer the objections that those opposed to the project have raised.
We doubt that religious leaders at ISAIAH or union officials--or those they represent authorized Goff Public or its clients to speak for them.
Ever since, a task force from Swift County and the city of Appleton along with Sen. Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City and Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, have been working to convince the state: Leasing the Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton is the answer to the state’s needs. . . .
The task force members also believe that state staffing resolves the concerns of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the bargaining unit for state employees. AFSCME wants to maintain union workers in the state corrections system.
One would think that a call to AFSCME Council 5--rather than the opinion of the local task force--would be a more reliable source on the union's concerns. Jennifer Munt is the union's Director of Public Affairs & Public Policy. She, not those pushing the facility in Appleton, is authorized to speak for the union's concerns.
And there's this:
Adding to the challenge for making the cause on behalf of the Appleton facility are calls by legislators and organizations in the state for prison reform. Those calling for reforms want the state to reduce its prison population, the two legislators said. . . .
Fidler said the Department of Corrections is confident that the county jails are meeting all that is asked of them. He also pointed out, however, that no one is making the case that county jails can provide the long-term services needed by many of these inmates.
Leasing the Appleton facility could allow the state to provide the programming and save it the expense of building new cells. Miller and Koenen both noted that building new prison cells would take up a large share of any state bonding measure. It would also obligate the state to maintain prison cells for another 50 to 100 years that might not be needed if prison reforms are achieved.
If the state leases prison cells, it can always end the relationship when the need for the cells no longer exists, Fidler said.
“A home run for everybody,’’ he said of a possible lease agreement.
Again, one would think that those raising these concern would be best to speak to them, rather than those who are pushing revive a local economy by re-opening a shuttered prison.
Indeed, Cherveny closes the article by marshalling numbers assembled "a few years ago" by the Upper Minnesota Valley Regional Development Commission and the city of Appleton assembled that looked at the economic impact of the prison and its closing.
No one on the local re-opening task force--and certainly not the two legislators on it--would benefit from the "home run" for the "prison reform."
Those advocating reform call it criminal justice reform--a discussion that addresses sentencing, alternative courts such as drug courts, mental health services and substance abuse treatment, among other things. All of these issues came up at the state Prison Population TaskForce meeting, while Saturday's article suggests that re-opening the Appleton Prison was one of the centerpiece proposals of that first meeting.
Watch The Uptake's excerpts and full video of the meeting in How To Fix Minnesota’s Over-Capacity Prison System? and that suggestion will be decentered.
Let's see Miller and Koenen introduce or support measures for criminal justice reform, push them through, insist on them as a condition for the lease--making it temporary, if it is indeed the most cost effective option for beds in a time of reform.
Otherwise, this simply looks like what the Appleton prison has always been--an attempt first by the city, then by CCA, to cash in on projected inmate gluts. Those who seek to base a region's economic development on this have only a disincentive to move criminal justice reform, whatever lip service to it their lobbyists tell them to spin in the media and St. Paul.
Photo: The shuttered prison at Appleton.
If you appreciate Bluestem Prairie, you can mail contributions (payable to Sally Jo Sorensen P.O. Box 108, Maynard MN 56260) or use the paypal button below:
Email subscribers can contribute via this link to paypal; use email sally.jo.sorensen at gmail.com as recipient. Donations are not tax deductible.