Bill to reopen private prison in Minnesota passes amid protests from Black Lives Matter

- A House committee passed a bill Tuesday that would reopen a privately-owned prison in Appleton, Minn. The bill faces fierce opposition from several community groups, who claim it would create more space to lock up people of color. A meeting of the Minnesota House Public Safety Committee Tuesday was interrupted by protestors opposing the bill.

“Slavery is not dead, it’s just the plantations are different," said Toya Woodland of Christ Temple Apostolic Church. "No longer are we on big plantations, were in prisons.”

Prairie Correctional Facility is a privately-owned prison run by the Corrections Corporation of America. The 1,600-bed facility closed in 2010 when the Department of Corrections started moving prisoners to other state-run facilities. Under a new bill proposed by Rep. Tim Miller, the state would lease the facility from the CCA and operate it as a state-run prison. Swift County clearly wants the jobs.

“This option as we’re seeing today fulfills what we’re looking for,” Swift County Commissioner Gary Hendricks said. “We’re looking for those jobs, we’re looking for union jobs.”

But opponents argue those rural jobs would support the incarceration of mostly urban inmates, and the commissioner of corrections told lawmakers it’s not the right fit.

“Prison expansion and new building is not is not on the Department of Corrections’ plate whatsoever, nor is it on the governor’s plate,” DOC Commissioner Thomas Roy said. “The notion that we incarcerate people for profits is the antithesis of America.”

It’s not just a policy issue -- it’s an emotional issue that is not lost on the Appleton prison’s lead supporter.

“When I hear that people in the audience have family, friends, neighbors that are incarcerated, it breaks my heart to know that many of them are not receiving the services that we promised them when they went through the judicial system,” said Rep. Tim Miller (R-Prinsburg). “Appleton is a way to provide some of that.” 

After a brief recess to separate the supporters from the protestors, the committee passed the bill along party lines, 10 to 7. It now goes before the House Ways and Means Committee, but the controversy is far from over.

Gov. Mark Dayton said Wednesday he would veto any bill to reopen the former prison. 

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