TOGO— The state correctional facility known locally as the Thistledew Camp has been tapped for permanent closure due to budget constraints. The Minnesota Department of Corrections made the …
TOGO— The state correctional facility known locally as the Thistledew Camp has been tapped for permanent closure due to budget constraints.
The Minnesota Department of Corrections made the announcement this week that it will close Thistledew, known officially as Minnesota Correctional Facility (MCF)-Togo, to help address a $14 million budget shortfall in the current fiscal year.
The closure will impact 48 workers currently employed at the facility. Most of the positions will be eliminated, while a handful will be relocated to other facilities to help operate what’s known as the Challenge Incarceration Program at other minimum custody prisons.
The department will also close a second minimum security correctional facility, in Willow River, affecting 51 workers. Combined, the two facilities— which are the smallest in the state— cost the department $11 million annually to operate.
The news came as a shock to staff at the Togo facility. Gino Anselmo, who has worked at the facility for 26 years and has served as warden since 2011, said he and his staff first learned of the decision on Monday, when the department issued a press statement. “It’s a sad day for all of us,” said Anselmo. “This has been a great facility that has operated with excellence for so many years. This decision certainly wasn’t due to poor performance.”
The department had requested supplemental funding in the recent special session, which adjourned without action on the agency’s request. In the next biennium, the department’s budget shortfall is expected to be $25 million.
The decision comes as an economic blow to the area. Anselmo notes that employees at the facility came from a 35-40 mile radius, including Cook, Hibbing, Bigfork, and Effie, all places where good-paying jobs with benefits are often in short supply. At the same time, the camp relied on a number of local vendors to provide supplies and services to the facility. “It’s a hit to our region, that’s for sure,” said Anselmo. At this point, Anselmo said he hasn’t been told exactly when the facility is scheduled to close.
The Department of Corrections is already facing some opposition to the closure plan. In a statement issued Monday, AFSCME Council 5, which represents rank-and-file officers in the Department of Corrections, announced that they will oppose the plan. “The Legislature must pass deficiency funding for the department and we will continue pushing our members to advocate for this funding, as well as passage of the federal HEROES Act which contains $1 trillion for state and local governments,” said Max Hall, public affairs and political action director with AFSCME Council 5. “We will continue to mobilize our members to take action to prevent further layoffs or service delays. These workers are on our front lines and deserve our thanks and admiration for their work, not lay-off notices.”
The Thistledew facility opened in 1955 as a camp to teach troubled youth practical skills to help them lead productive lives. The facility’s mission changed in 2015 to focus on adult males convicted of non-violent offenses, mostly property or drug crimes, who qualify to earn early release through the Challenge Incarceration Program. Phase I of the program an intensive six-month training for up to 90 offenders. Programming includes education, critical thinking skills development, chemical dependency programming, rigorous physical exercise, restorative justice work crews, and firewood preparation and bundling for state parks. Following the six-month program, most participants are transitioned back into their communities through supervised release.