In an April 7 commentary regarding the prison in Appleton, Minn. (“Reopen prison in Appleton, and Minnesotans will lose”) Dan McGrath of TakeAction Minnesota muddied the waters of what should be a clear decision for the Legislature.
We have too many inmates in our county jails, where they are given few if any opportunities for the rehabilitation or treatment that can be found in our state prisons. It’s projected that we will have even more inmates in the future, and we just don’t have room.
Leasing the prison in Appleton will give us the room necessary and more, in a state-of-the-art facility. It will provide jobs in a depressed area of the state, plus it will save the taxpayers of Minnesota millions of dollars. And the Minnesota Department of Corrections will be running the prison with union labor.
McGrath tries to make this a racial issue, citing racial disparities in incarceration numbers.
Many arguments can be made regarding the number of black convictions compared with others, the simplest being that more young black men commit crimes. Even so, there is some evidence that black criminals are treated differently than whites and may receive harsher punishment for the same crime. If this is the case, it’s obviously unacceptable and must be changed. However, it has absolutely nothing to do with the prison in Appleton. This prison is to be used to house inmates — people already convicted of a crime. If there are any injustices with our sentencing, these need to be addressed in the courts.
McGrath also repeats the allegations that facilities owned by the for-profit Corrections Corporation of America suffer instances of violence and sexual assault.
There are some things to keep in mind with these allegations.
First, before its closing in 2010, the Appleton prison was operated with personnel who were my friends and neighbors, and inmates were treated well.
Second, how does the operation of CCA prisons compare to state-run prisons?
Third, and most important, CCA will not run this prison. The state of Minnesota will.
Opening the Appleton facility is a win-win situation for everyone. Inmates will get better care than is available in county facilities; rural Minnesota will get some much-needed employment and state taxpayers will save money. We don’t need to complicate this by bringing in issues that have nothing to do with the prison and are better addressed in our courts, Legislature or the public square.
Peter Behlen, of Appleton, Minn., is a farmer.