Minnesota Department of Corrections closing 2 prisons due to budget crisis

On Monday, the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) announced its plan to close the state’s correctional facilities in Togo and Willow River to address a substantial budget crisis.

According to the DOC, the closure of the state’s two smallest prisons comes after the legislature adjourned from the recent special session without action on the agency’s supplemental budget request. The department faces a budget deficit of about $14 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021. While these two sites operate the Challenge Incarceration Program (CIP), the program will continue to operate in full at other existing facilities.

The DOC will also implement additional reductions in commissioner’s office personnel and central administrative services, as well as renegotiate purchase of service contracts to achieve a balanced FY21 budget and help stabilize the agency for the next two years. Corrections officials project that the agency’s budget deficiency will be approximately $25 million in the next two years.

The total DOC budget in the current fiscal year is about $611 million.

While the state’s next biennial budget will not be set until next year, the DOC is readying for the economic challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We take these steps out of a commitment to deliver critically needed services that offer opportunity for transformation and a safer Minnesota,” said DOC Commissioner Paul Schnell. “While the actions we announced today are immensely difficult, Minnesotans rightly expect that we be responsible stewards of public resources as we fulfill the agency’s mission."

Minnesota Correctional Facility-Togo has about 48 full-time equivalents (FTEs), and Minnesota Correctional Facility-Willow River has about 51 FTEs. The DOC says while most of those positions will be eliminated, some will need to be retained to support continued operation of CIP at other existing minimum custody prison sites. The combined annual budget for Togo and Willow River is approximately $11 million, according to the DOC.

Following Monday’s announcement, the agency will begin work with staff, labor partners and other stakeholders to develop a comprehensive timeline and plan to implement the changes.

According to the DOC, as of Monday, there are 82 inmates at Willow River and 68 at Togo. Planning for inmate relocation is underway, the DOC reported, adding that relocation will likely be to one of the remaining minimum custody facilities.

The goal, according to the DOC, is to close the two facilities by the end of 2020.