October 03, 2018 10:22 PM
A private meeting Wednesday afternoon at the State Capitol was called to address a growing safety problem inside Minnesota prisons.
The Minnesota Department of Corrections said DOC Commissioner Tom Roy met with Governor Mark Dayton's Chief of Staff and 15 key lawmakers from the House and Senate in a two-hour session.
It came following the recent deaths of two Minnesota corrections officers on duty, and a rise in offender assaults against corrections officers
Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, was one of the lawmakers invited to attend the meeting, which some participants attended by telephone.
"There is a request for additional resources for the Department of Corrections, and the Legislature has an obligation to ensure that staff are safe and that inmates are safe," Hilstrom said.
Hilstrom, the lead Democrat on the House Public Safety Committee, told KSTP that the DOC budget, prison staffing, prison security and the department's relatively new segregation policy for inmates who assault prison staff were all discussed Wednesday.
Hilstrom said finding the right number of corrections officers needed statewide, and the cost of those officers, was one of the specific questions lawmakers had for Roy.
"What's the number? When do you need it? And how do you implement it to ensure safety for all," Hilstrom said.
The DOC declined an on-camera request. But spokesperson Sarah Fitzgerald issued a statement:
"Today, Commissioner Tom Roy, in his continued efforts to inform key stakeholders about the Department's work to improve and protect the safety of Corrections Officers, staff, and inmates, convened a conversation with members of the Legislature," it read. "Lawmakers, who are responsible for setting the Department's budget, and who are charged with representing the people of Minnesota, have an important voice and role in this important work.
"Over the last eight years, Governor Dayton and the Department of Corrections have requested that the Legislature provide funding for 187 new Corrections Officers to meet ongoing staffing and security needs. Unfortunately, only 15 of those positions have been funded. The Department still faces the need for additional Corrections officers, across its correctional facilities statewide.
"It is important for members of the Legislature to have the opportunity to ask questions about the Department's operations, safety procedures, and budget requirements. In the coming months, the Commissioner will continue engaging in conversations with legislators about safety, security, staffing, and prison procedures and policies ahead of the upcoming 2019 Legislative Session. These constructive dialogues are essential in ensuring the safety, proper staffing, and efficacy of our Corrections system."
Hilstrom also said the shift in the DOC's segregation policy - changing from a mandatory one-to-two year penalty in segregation to as little as 90 days for some inmates - was also discussed.
"What was implemented? How was it implemented? How did you have staff to do it? And is it done safely," Hilstrom said.
Hilstrom said there is a good chance there will be hearings on these issues after the November elections, before the next legislative session starts in early January.
The Governor's Office did not comment on the meeting.
Instead, a spokesperson directed KSTP to the Department of Corrections for a statement.
Updated: October 03, 2018 10:22 PM
Created: October 03, 2018 09:10 PM
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