By John Lauritsen

STILLWATER, Minn. (WCCO) — State lawmakers toured the Stillwater Correctional Facility Friday afternoon. It was a chance for them to take a closer look at staffing and programming issues at the prison.

The lawmakers are part of the House Corrections Division. They say they are concerned about officer and inmate safety after recent incidents, including the death of Officer Joe Gomm at the hands of a prisoner last summer.

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It was a behind-the-scenes eye-opener for some lawmakers. A chance to see the 105-year-old Stillwater Prison and a chance to discuss its future.

“I believe corrections has been ignored for about 25 years,” said Rep. Jack Considine Jr. (D-Mankato). “This is directly on the legislature. They haven’t shown a lot of interest in what was going on.”

Legislators and media members saw living facilities and the cells where inmates go when they violate prison rules. They were also shown the lunchroom, gymnasium and an education center where prisoners can earn high school and college degrees.

“I think there is a lot of good work that we can do to make not only our prison safer, but our community safer in the long run,” Rep. Considine said.

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After the tour, lawmakers said staffing will be key. Prison administrators said they are understaffed by at least 30 guards right now and that it was an issue well before Officer Gomm was attacked and killed last July. Any bill that adds more prison staff will be called the Joseph Gomm bill.

“In this facility and other facilities, I don’t think that takes much convincing. The issue really becomes how much, how fast, and in what configuration,” said Rep. Carlos Mariani (D-St. Paul).

Lawmakers said there’s also the matter of adding more programming for inmates so when they leave prison, they’re ready for what comes next.

“These guys, I’m counting on them when they come out to be my neighbor and make my community stronger. So the work here is so darn important. It’s really important,” Rep. Mariani said.

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Lawmakers and administrators will have a hearing at the prison on Wednesday where they will begin to talk about which areas need improvement the most.

John Lauritsen