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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

EDITORIAL

Don’t close Thistledew

Department of Corrections hasn’t made the case for closing a successful facility

Posted 8/19/20

The Minnesota Department of Corrections, and the Walz administration, need to be much more transparent regarding the recently announced closure of the correctional facility in Togo long known as …

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EDITORIAL

Don’t close Thistledew

Department of Corrections hasn’t made the case for closing a successful facility

Posted

The Minnesota Department of Corrections, and the Walz administration, need to be much more transparent regarding the recently announced closure of the correctional facility in Togo long known as Thistledew, as well as at Willow River.
While the DOC is portraying the closure as necessary due to budget constraints, the department has yet to provide a clear accounting of how the closures of these two northern Minnesota facilities will truly save money. As Rep. Julie Sandstede, DFL-Hibbing, who represents the Togo area, noted in our story on the closure last week, the inmates at these facilities aren’t likely to be released. Instead, they’ll be transferred to other facilities in the state, so most of the costs of housing these inmates will remain.
In either case, the decision looks penny wise and pound foolish. The very successful Challenge Incarceration Program, which is operated at both Thistledew and Willow River, has proven its ability to save the state money by reducing recidivism. These are minimum-security facilities that have done an excellent job of providing direction and skills to offenders who can, in most cases, be turned around and reintroduced to society as productive citizens. Achieving that objective saves the state money on corrections and generates additional state taxes as inmates transition to gainful employment, and become taxpayers themselves, upon release.
The location of the Togo facility, in particular, is highly conducive to the success of the CIP. The tranquil surroundings make it an excellent place for offenders to engage in the kind of quiet introspection that can make a productive life change possible. Putting these individuals into much larger, noisier, and more dangerous facilities, is not a recipe for success.
Other factors should also be considered. Gov. Tim Walz has talked of his “One Minnesota” approach to governance, which is a concept with broad political support. Yet, targeting two corrections facilities in northern Minnesota for closure appears incongruous with that theme.
That’s especially true given the enormous economic impact such a closure can have in a place like Togo, where solid middle-class jobs with good benefits are few and far between. A closure like this would barely cause a ripple in the metro area, but its impact is likely to be devastating in the small, closely-knit townships in the Togo area. At least 60 families would be directly affected by the closure and many will likely be forced to leave the area as a result. That will have implications throughout the area.
Before that happens, Gov. Walz should insist that the DOC demonstrate that this closure is truly necessary from a financial perspective. And the GOP-led Minnesota Senate should also explain why it has been unable to support supplemental funding requested by the DOC, which could negate any need for closure of these facilities. The senate districts that include both Thistledew and Willow River are represented by GOP lawmakers. Are they raising concerns about the impact of these closures in their districts? If not, they should be.
The bottom line is clear. The impact of the closure of these facilities will be significant and the savings may very well never materialize. If the DOC has data to the contrary, they should be required to make their case publicly. The consequences are too significant for our area to simply give up a valuable local employer and a successful example of restorative justice with a collective shrug. Legislators in our region invariably tout the value of attracting good middle-class jobs. Let’s make sure we don’t lose the ones we already have.

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