The U.S. Department of Justice’s plan to end its use of private prisons is renewing calls to keep a private Minnesota facility permanently closed.
Some state lawmakers have been considering a plan to reopen the Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton.
But the idea has been met with opposition from some residents and AFSCME Council 5, the union that represents 1,900 correctional officers in state-run prisons.
John Hillyard, correctional policy committee president of AFSCME Council 5, says the vacant facility’s owner, the Corrections Corporation of America, has a history of more safety and security violations than state-run prisons.
“It’s a for-profit prison, so they’re not there for the best interest or the welfare of the offenders or the staff,” he states. “What they’re there for is to make money off of incarceration.”
Last week, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said the federal government will be reviewing all private prison contracts and will be, “ultimately eliminating the use of private prisons entirely.”
More jobs vs. safety
However, supporters of reopening the Appleton facility say it could bring jobs to the area, while helping house the state’s rising prison population.
But Hillyard, who currently works as a correctional officer at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Stillwater, maintains the state should follow the DOJ’s lead.
Hillyard says private facility owners tend to make choices that put both inmates and workers at higher risk of assaults than public prisons.
“Not only do we protect the public, protect inmates and protect the staff, but also model ourselves so inmates can model themselves off of us and they can come out be a productive member of society,” he states. “That is one of the biggest things I think you see a difference between state-run facilities, especially in Minnesota, and private ones.”
The Justice Department’s inspector general also released a report this month showing that private prisons have inferior services, programs and resources and they may not be saving taxpayer money as they were originally intended.