Minnesota 'not in prison population crisis'

  • Updated: April 7, 2011 - 10:12 PM

Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy comes to the agency with a long history in his field.

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Tom Roy

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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Tom Roy, appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton in January to lead the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC), started his career as a probation and parole officer in Duluth in 1974. Most recently he was executive director for Arrowhead Regional Corrections. He chairs the Minnesota Interstate Compact Advisory Council, which oversees the movement of offenders to and from Minnesota, and serves on the state sentencing guidelines commission.

Roy, 58, was raised in Cloquet, Minn., and is a University of Minnesota graduate. His DOC staff of more than 4,200 employees oversees 9,400 adult inmates and 100 juveniles. He recently sat down with Star Tribune reporter Kevin Giles for a get-acquainted session. Following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Q What growth, if any, do you foresee in our prisons?

A We're fortunate that our demographics, our population growth, is relatively flat. Our juvenile crime around the state is going down significantly. If you use that as a predictor of future adult crime, that's a good sign. We are not in a prison population crisis. County jails around the state are in relatively good shape. There is a lot of capacity in the counties for local offenders. Minnesota was way out in front with sentencing guidelines. Coupling that with the Community Corrections Act, which set the philosophy to put more offenders back in the community under a probation treatment model, those two things really led to a controlled prison growth.

Q Corrections officers rallied last fall at Stillwater prison because, they said, the Pawlenty administration wouldn't hire new officers. Did they have a point?

A Those offender-to-officer ratios are always a challenge. I would suggest that the more staff working with offenders the better. It's a balance between what the budget will support and good correctional practice. [Corrections officers] were sincere in stating that problem. [Staffing needs] will vary from facility to facility, from work station to work station, from unit to unit. Because we have a lot of personnel as a public entity, over 4,000 employees, that workload-to-employee ratio is very important to us.

Q Will the DOC continue its contract for medical treatment of inmates outside prisons?

A We have so many facilities around the state, we are driven to use local [hospitals]. Obviously there are procedures that we can't do, surgeries, cancer care. My health care folks say it's the best bang for the buck. We recognize that it bears additional security while those inmates are receiving procedures. It's a high cost, there's no question about it.

Q Should the DOC maintain a connection with the closed private prison in Appleton, Minn.?

A We have no need for expanded prison space at this time. We have, at this time, no offenders in county jails. As a citizen and public servant, I have total confidence that our public employees, an entity of corrections, should properly fall in the public realm.

Q What do you plan to do with the eight adult prisons and two juvenile facilities?

A I fully accept the notion that people can change. Having been in the business as long as I have, I actually have witnessed those changes in people, getting their lives in order, moving beyond their offending behaviors. I'm not at all suggesting we're successful with everybody ... [But] everything we do should be guided by that principle that we're going to reduce reoffending for those people.

Q What's the typical Minnesotan's perception of prisons?

A Prisons are often the forgotten element of the criminal justice system until things go badly. Catching the guy and prosecuting him is really important work, but if we don't do anything with that individual after we've got him, then shame on us. If all that effort goes to waste and we just open the doors five years later, and it's the same guy walking out the door and the same criminal thinking, we've failed in our mission.

Kevin Giles • 651-735-3342 Follow Kevin on Twitter @stribgiles

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