DOC prioritizes cheap inmate labor over rehabilitation success: Lawsuit

A new whistleblower lawsuit accuses the Minnesota Department of Correction (DOC) of putting cheap labor ahead of rehabilitation success.

A former employee's lawsuit claims he was pressured to let inmates keep working for the DOC's production business instead of jobs on the outside.

Halfway between prison and the real world is MINNCOR, the Department of Corrections work program where inmates can get job skills.

It’s a profitable business with state and corporate contracts.

Revenue fluctuates between $20 million to $50 million a year, and the labor is cheap – inmates get paid $0.50 to $3 an hour.

"The expectations that's placed on the participants that are in these halfway houses are just unrealistic," said plaintiff Nathan Delgado.

Delgado bumped into MINNCOR when he worked for its Bridges program starting in February 2023.

Ostensibly, his job was to help inmates at a halfway house prepare for jobs in the real world.

The ex-felon turned social services connector says it felt like the pinnacle of his career.

But those same inmates were the labor force for MINNCOR, so Delgado says his successes put him in bad standing with the production side.

For example, a production manager’s comments were caught on audio — after Delgado helped point three inmates towards outside job opportunities.

"But we still have work to do," you hear the manager say. "And when we only have eight (inmate workers), it makes it that much tougher. And I hope you can appreciate that because it's still is a business and you still need to pay the bills."

"It made me disgusted," Delgado said. "It made me go through cognitive dissonance for the simple fact that I was hired to, facilitate, great programing, and it was conflicting for me to find out that the programing is only contingent on the money that they have coming in."

Delgado's lawsuit says he filed several reports about unlawful conduct by his fellow DOC employees.

But he was dismissed from his job in January just as he tried to help two inmates file complaints about being suspended from the Bridges program and sent back to prison.

He says they hadn’t received necessary warnings and the production supervisor told Delgado he did it so other inmate laborers would work harder out of fear.

"Their own bad behaviors got them up against the wall," he said. "They did not need outside sabotage."

DOC Commissioner Paul Schnell sent FOX 9 a statement saying: "We have not had an opportunity to review the lawsuit, and we do not comment on litigation matters."

Delgado says he hasn't been whole since he was let go and he wants to see this whole system reformed.