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MN Prison Opponents Fear for Worker Safety, Economic Effects

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Monday, March 28, 2016   

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Minnesota lawmakers will again consider two bills aimed at reopening a controversial for-profit prison, as one of the state's largest labor groups continues to oppose the idea.

If House File 3223 and its counterpart in the Senate become law, the privately-owned Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton would once again house people sentenced to prison.

But Chet Jorgenson, president of the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees (MAPE), says he's concerned for the safety of those who work at private prisons.

"You really shouldn't have to show up at work and have a high risk of getting injured, or even seriously injured," says Jorgenson. "We know sometimes this happens, that we're dealing with people who can be violent, but the rate of people who are getting hurt at private prisons is much higher."

Last week, protesters interrupted a House committee hearing, but the panel ended up passing the bill, which would allow the state to lease the prison site from the owners and reopen it.

Supporters say it would help with prison overcrowding in the state.

Amy Levad is a theology professor and prison researcher at the University of St. Thomas. She joined last week's protest, partly because her research shows the prison may not become the economic driver that some of its backers are hoping.

"They also contribute to higher rates of unemployment, to lower housing values, to fewer job totals," says Levad. "If Appleton wants to do better as a community, they need to think about economic development aside from prisons."

House File 3223 now awaits a vote in the House Ways and Means Committee, while its companion bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Meanwhile, Gov. Mark Dayton says he he will veto any measure to reopen the Prairie Correctional Facility.


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