Prison Budget Cuts Could Put Public Safety At Risk

By Pat Kessler, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Minnesota Corrections Department says prison budget cuts proposed by republican majorities in the House and Senate are so deep, public safety is at risk.

It’s a claim republicans reject as “irresponsible,” but Minnesota prison guards say they are worried about increased violence.

WCCO-TV has obtained video images of violence against guards and inmates at state prisons — videos that include shocking scenes in facilities across the state.

The video images also show hundreds of prisoners — and few prison guards.

“At a split second, without notice … just boom! it happens,” said Sgt. John Hillyard, a Stillwater Corrections officer for 17 years. “If this continues to go on, that we keep getting more inmates into Stillwater and not enough correctional officers, somebody is gonna get hurt or killed.”

The video obtained by WCCO-TV shows guards sometimes brutally beaten.

Inmates wait for one corrections officer at Rush City; they had boiled coffee in a microwave and laced it with honey to make it stick to his face.

He is brutally kicked and hit by four inmates for 50 seconds before other guards can get there to rescue him.

If republican budget cuts are enacted, more guards could be in danger like that, corrections officials said.

“Public safety will be diminished,” said David Crist, facilities director at the Minnesota Department of Corrections, and a one-time prison guard.

But the $28 million the legislature is ordering for Minnesota prisons do not include cuts to prison guards.

Corrections officials say they will be forced to cut programs like chemical dependency and sex offender treatment; ironically, corrections officials say, resulting in more violent inmates.

“The budget cuts that are being proposed cannot be absorbed,” said Crist. “And I think, ultimately, will create an increased risk to public safety and to the staff that work in these facilities.”

The republican chairman of the House Public Safety Committee categorically rejects that.

Rep. Tony Cornish is a life-long law enforcement officer, and currently police chief in Lake Crystal. He said corrections officials are irresponsible to suggest public safety is at risk.

“They will have enough correctional officers to control the prison, because we aren’t going to let them cut correctional guards. They’ll have enough,” he said.

Cornish is proposing other ways for the corrections department to cut budgets, including layoffs of top-level administrators.

Cornish also says the state should consider:

— Releasing convicts early for good behavior
— Sending non-citizens back to their home countries to serve their sentences
— Cutting prisoner health care
— Shutting down prison wings, or entire facilities like the juvenile facility in Red Wing

But corrections officers say none of that will stop the violence.

Two weeks ago, a lone guard at South Dakota State Penitentiary was murdered by two inmates who wanted his uniform for an unsuccessful escape attempt.

And just last year, at Stillwater Prison, a violent clash: A riot that nearly spiralled out of control. A handful of unarmed guards fighting to subdue at least 70 inmates.

The state corrections department made a video of the incident, which it will not make public.

In a statement they said “release of the video will endanger the security of the institution.”

Guards describe it as a vicious fight in a cell block the length of a football field.

“And you’ve got to run from one end zone down to the other end zone,” Hillyard said. “And as you are running, you realize there’s 70 people fighting. And you’ve got eight people with you. But you still do it, to do your job.”

More from Pat Kessler
  • Willie Sutton

    I’d like to see Cornish work at Stillwater State Prison for a couple of weeks. He might just change his tune.

    For that matter, I’d like to see him work in a school or an emergency ward or a nursing home.

    He seems to like making policy from afar.

  • Pete

    When did the videos mentioned in the story get shot? Did WCCO do any stories on the guards who have been brutally beaten, when did this happen? This story seems a bit thin in some areas. Could you add links to the other stories?

    • Pete

      These assaults at the time were some bad ones…. In the Rush City video I was there!!! I wish we could show you the really, really, bad ones…. Or even the everyday life inside…. You wouldn’t take my Healthcare or ask for my Pension…. You would thank me for keeping you safe…….. And wonder why I am paid so little….

  • Jason

    Good thing our lawmakers are possibly expanding the castle doctrine. Im all for it.

  • Mariann

    The experience I have with the dept of corrections only begats the degradation & humiliating way they treat the inmates, treat them like animals & they will eventually act as such. Prison is for rehabilitation not humiliation and I’ve seen it first hand! Today’s prisons only teach new crimes and make worser criminals. The phone system is the biggest scam the calls come via Texas to MN for a big fee! The inmates make the products they sell for profit & get paid $.25 to .50 per hour WOW! We won’t even get into commissary and don’t send an inmate money; being a taxpayer and sending money that gets taxed an extra 10% for real! Whether I went to prison or not I’ve already been stripped of my rights as a citizen but once inside I become a number that generates revenue suffering at the hands of the very people that are supposed to protect me once inside just know there are TWO SIDES TO EVERY STORY!

  • Victim Du Jour

    Not to mention some of the ditzy things people are going to prison for.

    Prison is suppose to be for Murder and dangerous violent criminals first, Like triage in a hospital setting.

    • Paul

      It is a fact that Minnesota is the second lowest in incarceration rates in the US behind Maine. In Minnesota we lock up those that need to be locked up, whether you believe it at the time you are a risk to society and thats why you go to prison. And if you go your almost never sorry you did it your sorry you got caught. And when you did get caught it probably wasn’t your first time. I don’t feel bad for you.

  • Kindergarden level reporting.

    This is irresponsible reporting. First of all, this is not a GOP -vs- DFL issue. Politics has nothing to do with this.

    People are in prison for a reason – they were convicted of committing serious crimes. They don’t follow the rules of society, they don’t play nicely with the other kids in the sandbox. Most of them are angry, frustrated, short-tempered, ill-tempered, and looking to vent at any opportunity.

    These are not “new” problems and implying that they are caused by budget decisions makes as much sense as saying Jacob Wetterling kidnapped himself.

  • Patricia

    I totally agree with releasing some prisoners that have good behavior. They have proven themselves to last in a restricted atmosphere. They can act like locked up wild animals but chose to rehabilitate themselves. So why continue to hold them. The rest of the sentence should be on papers outside of prison.

  • Bruce

    I’ve only worked in the field for 18 years. I’ll trade spots with Mr Cornish – he can do my job and have my paycheck for two weeks and I’ll take his. I can’t do any worse of a job than he’s doing already. On the other hand he could do worse than me and get hurt doing my job. His perspective might change a little with experience. It’s worse when he’s supposedly a life-long law enforcement officer. I’ll bet he hasn’t seen the inside of a squad in 5 years (except as a ride along- if that).

  • Bruce

    Really? you honestly feel that you are an oppressed minority that is suffering and being imprisoned unjustly? And for that you are advocating violence against the officers that work in a correctional setting? Along with the bigotry and racial epithets that “whitey” is doing it to you personally. Wow – ego, ignorance, bigotry, racism, and espousing violence on top of that. What more can we expect from you?

  • free me

    Bruce you can expect to be beaten and thrown in jail and beaten again i smuggled this phone in a prison and im getting out early to commit more crimes thanks to tim pawlenty

  • Fed up Corrections Officer

    Mariann thinks that the Inmates are being treated unfairly? Why do you think Minnesota has the highest recidivism rate in the country? Because our prisons are a cake walk. They re-offend just so most of them have a roof over their head, free meals, free medical care, and watch TV all day. Did you know that they only pay $3 for a co-pay to see a doctor? Did you know that they pay nothing for medication and most of that is smuggled and taken to get high? They get free medical care while the hard working people in this country go bankrupt because of they do not have medical insurance! Did you know that they get PAID TO GO TO SCHOOL? I had to pay for my education! Did you know that the inmates received raises at their jobs while the Corrections Officers had their pay frozen? The inmates have more rights then the corrections officers! They make frivolous accusations against corrections officers and Administration automatically accuse staff of being guilty and we have to defend our selves constantly. I should know I work at one of these prisons. In my opinion we should bring back the chain gang and make prison a place they don’t ever want to come back to. Now that is rehabilitation.

  • Still On Parole

    I wasted many years inside of Minnesota prisons, in fact, enough time that an officer would have to work 90-some years to match my time.
    In 1988 I was transferred to Lino Lakes, then a minimum security facility. Staff would boast they could control 170 inmates with seven officers. This was true. Rules were few and realistic. Everything was done in a practical, efficient way.We inmates could buy electronics, computers, etc., food ordered from a grocery store and the means to cook. Then more rules were installed and the amenities became more and more limited. Fences were built and movement became limited. More rules required more rulers (staff). More staff allowed for more inmates.
    It should be noted that Staff’s union rules dictate the ratio of staff to inmate. The staff requirement is first and is not determined by Legislature, but their union.
    Why are the prisons full? Why are corrections personnel so reluctant to “let go”?

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