Insider, Commissioner weigh in on future of MN's Challenge Incarcerated Programs

Emily Ness
Updated: August 09, 2020 10:51 PM

Tucked away in the trees of Northern Minnesota are two Correctional Facilities that offer the state's only Challenge Incarcerated Programs or CIP’s for men. These are Togo and Willow River.


But, due to a profound budget deficit brought on by the pandemic, both Togo and Willow River are expected to close.

This news has been difficult for both the facilities and the Department of Corrections to accept.

On Sunday, employees from Togo met to take a picture in front of the correctional facility. Many of them still don't know when their last day could be or what their future will hold.

Terry Sullivan, who served as the Director of the CIP program at Togo Correctional Facility for many years, said he doesn’t want the facility to close because he doesn’t want the CIP program to be jeopardized.

“There are people all over the state that are doing great things after completing the program,” Sullivan said.

According to Sullivan, the CIP program is based on a boot camp model and incorporates a number of components, including education, physical fitness, chemical dependency and community service.

“These programs are gifts that keep giving to the state of Minnesota,” Sullivan said. “When people go back into the community and don’t reaffend, they’re out there working, they’re paying taxes, they’re back in their homes parenting their children, their kids are going to do better in school, their kids are less likely to get involved in criminal activities and end up incarcerated.”

Sullivan said the success stories he has seen during his time at Togo are endless and he believes could save the state of Minnesota money in the long run.

“I can tell you about people who are now practicing dentists, I can tell you about people who are working in corporate America,” Sullivan said.

Commissioner Paul Schnell said the Department of Corrections was disappointed about the prospect of closing Togo and Willow River, but found themselves in a $14 million budget deficit brought on by the pandemic.

“It’s not lost on me how much of a loss this is to our system,” Schnell said.

To meet this budget deficit, Schnell said the Department of Corrections made the difficult decision to close Togo and Willow River, who’s annual budgets equate to $11 million.

“Our current fiscal year ends on June 30th of 2021 and so about 11 months from now and we have to have a $14 million dollar cut by that time in order to make our budget for this year,” Schnell said. “While some could say: ‘Why don't you just wait?’ or ‘Why don't you just put this off until October when you maybe could act?’ The challenge then is that the deeper you go into this deficit—and the deeper that deficit—actually the more staff we have to potentially lay off across the system.”

Schnell said he is meeting with Governor Tim Walz this week to discuss the economic challenges that led to this decision—adding that unfortunately, the notion of reconsidering the decision is grim.

“We know that this has profound geographic impact on the workforce. These are really a good livable wage jobs in a part of our state that badly needs them,” Schnell said. “We know for some people, being able to make that move or transfer with their family is a not a realistic option and that's what makes this as heartbreaking as it is.”

No matter what the outcome is, Schnell said the Department of Corrections will work to keep the CIP program going and support current employees.

“We know that it’s going to be tough to replicate what those programs have done and what those staff have done, but we are committed to try to do that because this is an important program,” Schnell said.

Schnell said the Department of Corrections is exploring other facilities the CIP program could take place at.


Emily Ness

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