Corrections officer union demands over 300 new officers, no new prison

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Minnesota’s corrections officer union released demands of lawmakers Thursday after two of their own died in attacks in prisons this year.

The AFSCME Council 5 demanded lawmakers provide funding for 327 corrections officers and 75-100 other employees to keep workers, institutions and communities safe.

Along with the personnel demands, the AFSCME also stated its objection to reopening a privately owned Appleton, Minnesota prison previously called Prairie Correctional Facility.

“Reopening a vacant prison is not the solution to creating a safer environment for correctional officers and workers,” said a release from the AFSCME.

The release cited two independent reports that found buying and fixing the facility would cost around $200 million, not including personnel costs.

“The state hasn’t been able to keep up with staffing needs in existing prisons; reopening Appleton would stretch our correctional staffing even thinner and make safety issues worse,” the release said.

“Our union, AFSCME Council 5, has asked the Legislature for years for additional staff,” said Council 5 associate director Tim Henderson. “Every prison is dealing with staffing shortages that have put workers in danger. Hiring these additional workers will provide additional safety and security for our staff and the public, which is one of our most fundamental responsibilities.”

“We and the Department both recognize we need adequate staffing for security and programming to guarantee a safer and more positive work environment,” said Local 915 president Jeff Vars, a corrections officer at Oak Park Heights Correctional Facility.

The release says AFSCME members will continue talks with lawmakers and candidates this fall and promised to continue “showing up in force” during the legislative session.

“Even though we have a staffing number, we realize the work isn’t over,” Vars said. “We’re not going to wait until the legislative session starts. We’re going to jump on it.”