First independent prison investigator hired after office was defunded in 2003

After a more than 16 year hiatus, Minnesota prisons will soon get back its independent investigator.

The Governor’s Office recently announced the hiring of a so-called prison ombudsman who is responsible for investigating complaints from inmates or corrections officers.

The position was eliminated back in 2003 due to budget cuts, but after a series of violent attacks in prisons, the legislature decided to bring back the Ombudsman role during the last legislative session.

Following a series of interviews, a selection committee picked Mark Haase for the job.

“I’m accountable of the governor, and no one else,” Haase said.

The independent nature of the role is what he says attracted him to the position.

“If they have an outlet for issues that come up, they’re going to be more satisfied and less likely to be angry and lash out,” he said.

According to Department of Corrections statistics, roughly every other day a prison guard is spat on, has feces thrown at them, or is outright assaulted.

The murder of corrections officer Joseph Gomm in the summer of 2018 seemed to be a tipping point.

“It’s going to take a little time before we can start taking complaints and working and doing the actual work of the office, but I want to try to get that going as quickly as possible,” Haase said.

Haase is not new to criminal justice. He’s currently the executive director of the Minnesota Justice Research Center, an organization dedicated to criminal justice reform.

Last year he tried to unseat Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman but lost in a tight race. His next challenge begins in two weeks.

“I think it’s just the right thing to do to treat them in a humane way, and they have rights that need to be protected,” Haase said.