Private Prison Leasing Bill Advances Despite Opposition

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A plan for Minnesota to lease a private prison to ease overcrowding got a House committee party line vote approval Tuesday, but Governor Mark Dayton’s representative in the room made it clear the proposal does not have his support which means it is unlikely to become law.

“Prison expansion, new building, is not on the Department of Corrections’ plate whatsoever, nor is it on the governor’s plate,” said Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy.

“The notion that we incarcerate people for profit, for corporate profit, I think is the antithesis of America,” Roy added. “We would not for a moment think about privatizing police. We would not for a moment think about privatizing our courts. Why would we consider privatizing corrections, the final state?”

The Republican authored and backed bill would just lease the prison; Minnesota would still run it. NAACP Minneapolis President Nekima Levy-Pounds said that’s a difference of little distinction. “Who we do businesses with is just as important as the business we decide to do. Levy Pounds says Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) which owns the Appleton prison has a reputation of treating its prisoners badly and falsifying records. “Doing business with CCA is like doing business with the devil, because their practices are diabolical.”

Economic Reasoning Questioned
Video at top: highlights of opposition to bill
Videos below: hearing brought to stop after outbursts from prison opponents
Opponents testimony and committee action

Republicans positioned the bill as economic relief for rural Minnesota. While expressing empathy for Appleton’s economic struggles, Levy-Pounds said “there is no comparison” to the unemployment rate of “a small white rural town” to people of color with higher rates of unemployment.

“I haven’t heard much discussion about the high unemployment rates in the inner-city communities that are actually fueling our incarceration rate and we cannot continue to ignore those challenges,” she said.

At one point the hearing had to be stopped because opponents of the bill stood up read statements while supporters were testifying for the bill. Many of the statements were directed at getting the state to reduce its prison population rather than adding beds.

The state’s sentencing guidelines commission has taken action to do that by reducing prison time for certain offenders. Rep. Tony Cornish, chair of today’s hearing, has introduced a bill to roll back those changes.

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Michael McIntee

Michael McIntee is a former network TV news executive with more than 30 years of broadcasting experience. He began his broadcasting career at the University of Minnesota's student radio station. He is an expert producer, writer, video editor who has a fondness for new technology but denies that he is a geek. More about Michael McIntee »

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