APPLETON, Minn. — Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton, shuttered since 2010, may soon see new inmates. On April 6, the Minnesota House of Representatives approved a proposal that would reopen the facility.
“It’s been made very clear to us that the [Minnesota Department of Corrections] has a prison bed problem and it doesn’t have enough beds in their system,” said State Representative Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, the bill’s sponsor, in a statement. “We have a state-of-the-art facility in Appleton that can service the needs of the State of Minnesota, and utilizing this asset is just good common sense.”
Miller authored the bill to reopen the facility as part of a comprehensive public safety proposal. The bill would allow inmates to be housed in non-publicly owned facilities and require the State of Minnesota to enter into a contract to operate and purchase or lease to own the Prairie Correctional Facility in order to address prison bed capacity shortfalls throughout the state, according to a statement issued by Miller’s office.
“The Department of Corrections came with a proposal last year to build 500 new beds at a cost of $141 million, even though we already have an asset available in Appleton,” Miller said in a statement. “I’m looking forward to the governor listening to our message and hopefully he’ll sign this legislation into law.”
Speaking with MPR News in March, Miller called the bill “a common-sense solution to the current overcrowding in Minnesota correctional facilities” and said the state could add 1,600 prison beds by leasing the facility from Corrections Corporation of America (now CoreCivic). Miller added, however that the company would have no involvement in the daily operations, staffing or inmate care at the facility.
“It would be entirely run by the DOC, just like any other prison facility in the state,” he told MPR News.
House committee members voted to advance the bill in March along party lines, with 10 Republican representatives in favor and seven Democratic representatives opposed. Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, proposed amendments prior to the bill’s advancement that would have banned all private prisons statewide, but was unsuccessful.
CoreCivic shuttered Prairie Correctional Facility due in February 2010 due to a sharp decline in contracted beds at the Minnesota facility. Prior to closing, the facility housed state prison offenders from Minnesota and Washington. As both states experienced inmate decline and excess capacity, both moved to cut the number of inmates housed at the Prairie facility. At the end of 2009, the facility held just 200 inmates.
“We are disappointed to make the decision to close the Prairie Correctional Facility,” said Damon Hininger, president and CEO of CoreCivic, in a 2009 statement on the facility’s closure. “Unfortunately, without an inmate population large enough to significantly utilize the facility, maintaining operations at the Prairie facility isn’t economically viable,”
When the facility initially closed in 2010, the county lost 350 jobs, contributing to a peak unemployment rate of 8.2 percent. Once re-opened, the Appleton prison could provide approximately 300 union jobs to Swift County residents.
The public safety proposal that includes Miller’s Appleton prison bill now heads to the Minnesota Senate for further debate. The Appleton prison bill was included by the Minnesota House Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee in a larger omnibus bill that was unveiled on March 22.