Reopening Private Prison Would Cost More Than Expected

1-24-2018
Sgt. Rick Neyssen testifies last legislative session about why reopening the Appleton prison is a bad idea. Rep. Tim Miller, right, is pushing to reopen the prison owned by CoreCivic, despite ongoing opposition from correctional officers in AFSCME, and community and faith groups.
Sgt. Rick Neyssen testifies last legislative session about why reopening the Appleton prison is a bad idea. Rep. Tim Miller, right, is pushing to reopen the prison owned by CoreCivic, despite ongoing opposition from correctional officers in AFSCME, and community and faith groups.

The Minnesota Legislature ordered an assessment to find out how much it would cost the state to reopen the Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton. The answer? A lot.

The shocking price tag to purchase and upgrade the shuttered private prison is nearly $200 million. 

A new report also finds that leasing private-prison beds would cost nearly twice as much as keeping inmates in Minnesota jails.  When our prisons are full, the state has been housing overflow inmates in county jails.

Leasing from CoreCivic would cost $98 a day per inmate, says the architectural assessment by Klein McCarthy Architects, who specialize in justice and public facility design.

“It is cheaper for the State to rent beds from counties at $55/day rather than lease from CoreCivic,” the report says.

That $98 a day is not even near the full price tag.  That amount doesn’t consider that Appleton can house more than 1,600 prisoners, while there’s only a need to house about 300 overflow inmates. That would leave the prison 80 percent vacant, substantially boosting the per prisoner cost.

That price tag also doesn’t include millions in needed repairs and upgrades to the prison, which was built in 1992 and closed in 2010. That’s a long time for a big facility to sit vacant, and prison security standards have increased over the last three decades.

Buying the prison outright would cost the state $196.5 million over 15 years, the report concluded. Here’s how that breaks down:

  • $74.1 million to CoreCivic to buy the prison (even though the tax assessed value is just $12 million to $14 million, according to GOP Rep. Tim Miller, the biggest proponent of the purchase.)
  • $78.7 million for repairs. That includes replacing roofs, floors and windows; lighting upgrades; dealing with mold and water leaks; retrofitting HVAC and electrical systems; and plumbing repairs, according to a facility condition assessment for the Legislature by Facility Engineering Associates.
  • $32.9 million to make the prison meet state and federal standards including ADA, the architectural report says. To meet security standards, the state would have to update or replace obsolete computers, locks, fire alarm and radio systems; inadequate, outdated analog cameras; and fix security issues like blind spots.
  • That huge amount of money doesn’t include ongoing, increased staffing due to the prison’s poor design. The architectural assessment says Appleton would cost $8.6 million more than Stillwater to staff ($82 per inmate per day compared to Stillwater at $66/day).

GOP Rep. Miller told the Pioneer Press that supporters of the Appleton prison will meet to examine the latest report. Despite clear evidence from these two independent studies commissioned by the Legislature, he still claims the prison would take overflow prisoners “at a competitive cost.” Miller says he does not expect major legislative action on the issue this session.

Minnesota Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy has repeatedly said the state doesn’t want or need to reopen Appleton.

“The report was prepared for the Legislature and highlights the financial implications they will consider,” Roy said in a statement Tuesday. “In the meantime, the department has proposed other strategies that can add beds more cost effectively, specifically at our existing facilities. We will also focus our efforts on ways to reduce the return violator population by engaging our community partners and reducing the number of offenders returning to prison from supervision.”

In Minnesota, crime is down, so why is our prison population rising? Minnesota has the dubious honor of being one of a handful of states that is sending more people to prison, unlike 35 states that have cut both crime and imprisonment rates, according to a new Pew Charitable Trusts study. Overcrowded prisons are dangerous for staff and inmates. It's time for more sentencing reform.

AFSCME Council 5 will keep a watchful eye on the Appleton prison. We oppose the state doing business with CoreCivic, a private prison company with a long record of mistreating inmates and workers. We also oppose the state wasting taxpayer money by buying Appleton and stretching our correctional workers too thin.

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