Westrom, Ingebrigtsen introduce bill to transfer state prisoners to private facility
State Representative Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, and Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, have authored legislation to transfer some state prisoners to a private facility.
They say the plan will save Minnesota taxpayers millions of dollars while providing additional space needed to house sex offenders.
The bills would transfer inmates from the state-owned, medium-security Moose Lake prison to Minnesota's lone privately run facility, Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton.
A Department of Corrections budget document for the 2008 fiscal year shows savings could be millions of dollars annually due to Appleton's lower per diem rates.
Moose Lake reported to have 776 inmates as of January 27. Minnesota already has a contract in place with Appleton, which has housed between 300-1,200 state prisoners over the last several years.
Westrom said the bill would simply put Appleton to greater use.
"We really need to look at how our state can operate more efficiently," said Westrom. "Government spending has grown by about 140 percent since 1992 and this is one way we can change that trend."
Westrom added that $90 million could be saved by forgoing bonding appropriations for expanding the Moose Lake prison in order to accommodate Phase 2 of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program.
Increased housing is needed to alleviate capacity pressure caused by heightened prosecution of sex offenders, Westrom said.
However, the health department is already leasing space from the Moose Lake prison and Westrom said it would make sense to free up existing beds in Moose Lake to satisfy the additional space requirements. He said this could mitigate any layoffs from closing the medium-security prison.
Reports show private companies in the U.S. operate 264 correctional facilities, housing almost 99,000 adult offenders. Reason Foundation studies since 1989 show private prisons outperform their government-run facilities in both quality and cost.
The DOC report shows the Moose Lake price tag to be about $122 per prisoner, per day when health care and building costs are included.
That makes Moose Lake one of the highest per diem rates among Minnesota prisons, according to DOC figures. By comparison, the DOC report indicates Appleton's rates are more than $21 cheaper each day excluding the building costs and $40-$45 a day cheaper when all line items are added.
"Increasing our use of private prisons also could bring a healthy element of competition to the state-run facilities to operate more efficiently and extend the savings even further," said Ingebrigtsen. "I don't think the state will ever completely get out of the prison business, but a shared system of both privately and publicly managed prisons would help our bottom line."
The Appleton prison was in Westrom's legislative district prior to re-districting in 2002. Westrom noted it is the only Minnesota prison that pays property taxes to the local community, a fact he said is often overlooked.
"During these extremely tough economic times, it just makes sense," Westrom said. "This is a win-win situation and if we don't act now - in these tough economic times - when will we? The public needs to demand reforms like this from their elected officials."