Commissioners tour state's largest education program behind prison walls

March 08, 2019 06:48 PM

Minnesota’s new education and corrections commissioners stepped behind the razor wire at the state prison in Fairbault Friday to learn about inmate education programs.

Fairbault is the largest prison based on the size of the facility and inmate population. The prison also has the most offenders, more than 500, enrolled in G.E.D, technical trade and college degree programs compared to the rest of the state prison system.


"They can use it to better their lives, their families and job opportunities," Warden Kathy Halvorson said. "Providing education in a safe environment is a priority."

An inmate at Faribault must earn a high school diploma or G.E.D in order to advance to one of the technical programs.

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“I never thought we'd do this behind bars,” said Treheem Smith, an offender enrolled in a drywall installation program.

Mary Cathryn Ricker, Minnesota's new education commissioner, and Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell were on the tour, listening to staff and offenders on ways to improve learning behind bars.

"We can't forget about this population" Schnell said. “I think that's been one of the goals."    

Schnell said it is a goal to see more educational programs developed at the other nine state prisons.

Ricker said giving inmates new titles they have earned from education opportunities in the trades will help with recidivism.

"Here is the person I came out as ... I was student and now I'm a cabinet maker or now I'm  carpenter….that language or way of reintroducing yourself to the community," Ricker said.  

The state recently hired staff to connect inmates with employers hiring in the trades.

"There are employers that are waiting for these people to walk out the doors," Schnell said. "That's important to note."

Fairbault has nine career or trade training programs, which is more than are available at the state's prisons. 

This is the third prison that the new Walz administration has opened up to the media. Some facilities have not seen outsiders in nearly a decade.


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Eric Chaloux

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