DULUTH — Correctional facilities in Willow River and Togo will close due to budget deficiencies, the Minnesota Department of Corrections announced Monday, Aug. 3.
Facing a budget shortfall of $14 million this fiscal year, the department is closing the two northern Minnesota correctional facilities and plans to reduce staff and services and renegotiate service contracts to balance its current $611 million budget. Together, the two correctional facilities' budget is $11 million.
The department requested supplemental budget funding in the recent special session, which adjourned without action on the agency's request. In the next biennium, the project budget shortfall is expected to be $25 million.
The two facilities are the smallest in the state, with Willow River employing 51 full-time staff members and the Togo facility employing 48.
Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, on Monday told reporters that lawmakers' failure to pass a supplemental budget last month left the department with few options. The department in July laid off 48 employees, also citing concerns about its budget.
“Consequences kick in when we can’t get agreement and get things done,” Hortman said.
The move comes as the department faces a $14 million budget hole and after lawmakers failed to approve extra funding as part of a supplemental state spending plan last month.
Most of the positions will be eliminated, while a handful will be relocated to other facilities to help operate the Challenge Incarceration Program at other minimum custody prisons, a news release said.
“We take these steps out of a commitment to deliver critically needed services that offer opportunity for transformation and a safer Minnesota,” DOC Commissioner Paul Schnell said in the release. “While the actions we announced today are immensely difficult, Minnesotans rightly expect that we be responsible stewards of public resources as we fulfill the agency’s mission."
The department will work with staff, labor partners and others to create a closure timeline.
AFSCME Council 5, which represents correction workers among many others, opposes the closures.
About 100 employees will be laid off, and the union will continue working with its members to prevent layoffs, the union said in a statement.
"The Challenge Incarceration Program remains one of our state’s most effective programs to reduce recidivism and prison re-entry. The Legislature has historically failed to provide funding that would protect correctional officers, staff, and the public," the statement said.
Forum News Service reporter Dana Ferguson contributed to this report.