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DOC to close prisons in Togo, Willow River to address budget deficit

Updated: August 03, 2020 10:38 PM

The Minnesota Department of Corrections plans to close two prisons to address a budget deficit. The department said Monday it plans to close the state's two smallest correctional facilities, in Togo and Willow River.

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Department officials say the closings are necessary because the Legislature adjourned the recent special session without acting on the agency's supplemental budget request.

The Corrections Department faces a budget deficit of about $14 million in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021. According to Commissioner Paul Schnell, closing Togo and Willwo River will save about $11 million.

Schnell said they looked at making cuts across all facilities or even closing one big one. But in the end, he says it was most feasible to close two small ones. 

"As opposed to implementing cuts every couple of months as we go forward, we wanted to stabilize the DOC's position and move this forward, knowing that it's going to take several months, many months, for these changes to occur," he said. 

There isn't a set timeline yet, but Schnell said he anticipates the two prisons will close their doors sometime this winter, probably by January 2021. The Togo facility has 48 full-time employees, and Willow River has 51. Most of those positions will be eliminated. 

"We've been working like crazy to manage COVID, and our staff have really been on the frontlines of that," Schnell said. "And to have to deliver the message that we did today ... it was brutal."

Schnell said around 120-130 inmates will need to relocate. He said they have a plan in place already for moving inmates during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Some people will be kept to keep operating the Challenge Incarceration Program, a minimum-security bootcamp that can allow nonviolent offenders to earn an early release. The program will continue to operate at two of the following existing facilities: Stillwater, Red Wing, Lino Lakes or Faribault. 

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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