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MN private prison remains in discussion, but without money

TOM CHERVENY | TRIBUNEJonathan Burns, director, public affairs, Correctional Corporation of America, looks down one of the silent hallways leading to inmate cells and programming areas within the Appleton facility.

ST. PAUL—A closed western Minnesota private prison would be allowed to take state prisoners under a proposal in front of legislative budget negotiators, but there would be no money to open it.

"We still plan on Appleton, full speed ahead," House Public Safety Chairman Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, said, although there would be no money to open it.

He said on Thursday, April 20, as public safety and courts funding negotiations began that money to open the prison would need to come from a future legislature.

But, first, he and fellow House Republicans who back the plan must convince senators. While the House folded a prison provision into an overall funding bill, the Senate did not.

Senate Public Safety Chairman Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said his committee did not even take up the prison bill because it had no money to open it. The House plan, which would allow private ownership but give the state control, would cost millions of dollars, Cornish said.

Limmer authored a bill years ago to allow state prisoners in the facility. State and federal prisoners were housed there, but the Prairie Correctional Facility closed in 2010. It has been empty since then, although the owners maintain it and keep its license current for 1,640 prisoners.

Sen. Ron Latz, D-St. Louis Park, said that even if negotiators approve the Appleton provision, it never will become law. He called the Republican plan "veto bait" for Gov. Mark Dayton.

Democrats like Dayton, and state unions, have opposed opening Appleton.

The House provision, from Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, would allow the state to open the prison if officials felt there was a need for more cells. It requires the Appleton facility to reopen before new prison space is built elsewhere.

State officials may send more prisoners to county jails, avoiding new construction or using Appleton.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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