Community rallies around keeping Willow River & Togo Correctional Facilities open

Emily Ness
Updated: August 13, 2020 10:36 PM

Willow River and Togo—the state of Minnesota’s two smallest Correctional Facilities—are expected to close, as a result of budget shortfalls brought on by the pandemic. On Thursday, a rally was held near Willow River by a group who would like to see the facilities remain open.

At the rally, organizers emphasized that Willow River and Togo offer the state's only Challenge Incarceration Programs (or CIP’s) for men. They spoke about the impact the CIP program has had on the men who have been a part of it, as well as, the jobs that the CIP program has brought to the community.

One of these organizers was Paul Mickelson, who worked for the Minnesota Department of Corrections for 28 years and was a part of the CIP program since the beginning.

“This boot camp is alive today and it's really getting a lot of success. It always has. It saves a lot of money for tax payers, helps these guys turn their lives around, become successful, and reintegrate back into society,” Mickelson said.

Minnesota Department of Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell also spoke at the rally—saying he too is sad about seeing the program go and wanted to make that known.

“I think the community deserves an explanation as to why we are making the decisions we are making and it’s important that they have the opportunity to speak to us and say what they think and we heard that loud and clear tonight,” Schnell said.

Community members at the rally said the CIP program has had a big impact on other programs outside the prison.

Tony Koecher, who has been the facility manager at One Heartland—a local camp that serves youth—for 19 years said he would miss working with the CIP program.

“It’s going to be a devastating loss to the community. It serves not only One Heartland, it serves other nonprofits, townships, cities, churches. It makes a big impact throughout the community,” Koecher said.

Guyal Nelson, manager at Riverside Arena said he too would miss working with the CIP program.

“I've had CIP working for me for the last ten years. They are a great group of young men,” Nelson said. “We had a flood here in 2012. They rebuilt, repainted, everything inside that arena.”

Commissioner Schnell said the Department of Corrections plans to keep the CIP program going at their other facilities should Willow River and Togo close—adding that the possibility of them remaining open is grim.

“I don't have exceedingly high hopes just because of the financial situation, but you can't never underestimate the power of people to mobilize and ultimately cause something to happen and should that happen, that supports exactly we hoped from the beginning,” Schnell said.

Many have also been making their voices heard by writing letters and making phone calls about Willow River remaining open.

More information about the future of the facilities is still being determined.


Emily Ness

Copyright 2020 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved


State, local officials address COVID-19 impact on MN's public safety

Sen. Baldwin on pandemic relief & vaccine distribution

Resources and help still available for struggling small businesses

DEED seeks to connect Minnesotans to jobs in high demand

St. Luke's CEO steps down

AICHO distributes hundreds of bags of food