In early August, the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) announced that they intend to close the facilities at Togo and Willow River, which house the Challenge Incarceration Program (CIP) for male offenders in Minnesota. The CIP is an opportunity for nonviolent offenders to gain the tools necessary for reintegrating into society when they are released. This program combines a boot camp experience with intensive aftercare rehabilitation in order to reduce recidivism and ultimately reduce cost to society associated with incarceration. CIP has proven to be successful since its inception in 1992.
In 2006, the DOC commissioned a study to test the effectiveness of CIP. The results were overwhelmingly positive: CIP decreased the chance that an offender would commit a new felony upon release by 32%, CIP decreased the chances of reincarceration for a new crime by 35%, CIP offenders were less likely to be imprisoned for a violent crime, CIP graduates early releases saved the department nearly 1,500 beds, and the savings associated with bed space and recidivism reductions saved the state by $18.1 million. The researchers estimated that the program helped the state avoid $1.84 million annually.
The Willow River and Togo facilities were built to best rehabilitate low-risk offenders and help inmates reintegrate into society in a way that is impossible in a traditional correctional facility. These facilities are customized for CIP; Willow River was built specifically for CIP in 1992.
The interaction between the offenders and the community is invaluable. In fact, the CIP participants at Willow River marched at Moose Lake’s Fourth of July parade because of their work to save the town from massive floodwaters in 2012. The Togo and Willow River/Moose Lake communities recognize and appreciate the value that these programs hold, and the negative impact on the surrounding communities must not be discounted.
There are significant costs associated with moving offenders, staffing, and facilities from one facility to another. In 2014, the CIP for female offenders moved from Togo to Shakopee to allow for the expansion of the CIP for male offenders at Willow River. The department had to shift staff, move offenders nearly 250 miles, and retrofit a segregated facility while also building a fence on the Shakopee complex. The CIP offenders at Shakopee live in a completely separate facility on the campus, with their own mess hall, to ensure that the program can be administered with as much integrity as possible. Replicating this work at a time when finding short and long-term savings will be a challenge, particularly if the department hopes to retain the full capacity of the program and realize the savings of CIP.
Finally, the notion that the DOC will realize any savings in this biennium or next is cloudy at best. Meanwhile, closing the facilities and laying off most of the staff will cost real money in the short and long term. Workers are entitled to unemployment benefits for six months, health insurance for six months, and cash payouts for accumulated vacation time. The department will need to relocate offenders to other facilities that are already struggling with overcrowding and staff shortages. Any savings that the department might realize be laying off the staff at Togo and Willow River will likely be offset by overtime costs and reduced retention of staff that are already overworked at several metro facilities that have historically struggled at recruitment and retention in a way that Togo and Willow River have not.
Togo and Willow River should not close, period.
Cover image courtesy MN Department of Corrections.
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