Range lawmaker pushing to keep Togo prison open

Updated: August 05, 2020 07:46 PM

The Minnesota Department of Corrections announced plans to close state correctional facilities in Togo and Willow River to address an approximately $14 million budget deficit.


State Rep. Julie Sandstede, who represents the legislative district home to the Togo facility, is adamantly opposed to the proposed closures and has asked Governor Tim Walz and his administration to reconsider.

“COVID-19 has given us an extremely challenging budget outlook, but closing these facilities with dedicated staff and effective programming is the wrong approach. I call on the governor and DOC to take this option off the table,” Sandstede said. “I’ve visited MCF-Togo multiple times and have seen firsthand exactly how well the model works and how personally invested the staff are in offender success. Especially during a time when criminal justice reform is at the forefront, we need to expand approaches rooted in redemption and rehabilitation like those at Togo and Willow River. Closing these facilities may save a few dollars now, but will lead to the loss of untold opportunity down the road.” 

The Togo and Willow River correctional facilities are home to the Challenge Incarceration Program (CIP), a six-month voluntary boot camp style program for eligible offenders that includes chemical dependency treatment, restorative justice, physical training, transition planning, and other programming. Offenders who successfully complete the program can be eligible for early release.

DOC leadership said Monday that the CIP is not ending. The program and inmates in it will be moved to new facilities: either Stillwater, Lino Lakes, Red Wing or Faribault.

The Togo facility employs 48 full-time equivalent positions, most of which will be eliminated.  

According to a DOC study, CIP participants’ chances of reoffending with a new felony conviction drop by 32 percent compared to other offenders with similar criminal factors, and their chances for reincarceration for a new crime are decreased by 35 percent. 

Rob Farnsworth, the Republican running against Sandstede, said in a statement, "Having previously worked at Togo as a teacher, I know first hand what quality programs they provide. I am troubled that the state would select the two most effective programs for closing when they have a deficit. It seems like another instance of Greater Minnesota suffering while prisons near the metro are left alone. I also think the Department of Corrections needs to answer for where the $14 million deficit came from when they were fully funded this biennium."

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