Corrections Lobbying Day at the Minnesota State Capitol

Over one hundred AFSCME Council 5 correctional officers and other staff from across the state ascended upon the Minnesota Capitol Tuesday morning. They began their annual Corrections Lobbying Day by packing the hearing room for the first hearing of HF1237/SF1678, a bill to ban private prisons from doing business with the state of Minnesota. AFSCME members filled the hearing room, and so many attended that a second overflow room had to be set up at the last minute.

Correctional officers Anna Koktan (vice president of Local 1988 and Council 5 Executive Board member), and Rick Neyssen, (AFSCME Never Quit award winner and Council 5 Executive Board member), gave personal testimony at the hearing. The officers spoke against reopening the shuttered private prison facility in Appleton, and advocated to stop private prison corporations – who turn profits off the backs of inmates and workers alike – from doing business with the State of Minnesota altogether.

“We have to ask ourselves if private prisons would provide the same opportunities and services to their staff and inmates,” said Officer Koktan. “When the bottom line is profit, why would you provide services to help keep offenders out?”

“Locking up people for profit has nothing to do with justice,” said Officer Neyssen.  “It has everything to do with making billions of dollars off of human misery.”

At a press conference following the hearing, the members joined Rep. Ryan Winkler and Sen. Ron Latz, the bill’s authors, and AFSCME Council 5 associate director Tim Henderson, for a press conference. They explained that banning private prisons isn’t only morally right; it’s essential to guaranteeing the safety of staff as well as the inmates and communities they serve.

“We thank Sen. Latz and Rep. Winkler for authoring this responsible and moral legislation,” said Henderson. “It’s time to end the concept that anybody should profit off of incarcerating human beings.”

The Corrections Division hearing also included House Files 1315 and 1615, which focused on funding safe staffing and indexing the staff-to-post ratio at our correctional facilities so that when more staff are needed, more staff actually get hired. Jeff Vars (president of Local 915 in Oak Park Heights) and John C. Hillyard (president of the Corrections Policy Committee and of Local 600 at the Stillwater prison) shared their experiences and described why adequate staffing is so important.

It’s not just about security, they argued. It’s essential so that facilities can offer programming to inmates that reduce recidivism and prepare inmates to reenter their communities after they serve their time. It’s also essential that those staff have the training, tools, and resources they need to be able to do their jobs.

"We’ve neglected to get the officers we’ve needed in the past,” said Officer Hillyard. “It’s very important that we get the officers we need to protect the people of the state of Minnesota, our officers, and our inmates.”

AFSCME correctional officers and staff from every state corrections facility agree that our correctional system needs to hire 328 additional staff to provide the essential services Minnesotans expect. It is now the job of the Minnesota Legislature to ensure those staff can be hired, and that they have the resources they need to be successful. That includes making opioid blockers like Narcan available and accessible, and to give staff the training and authorization administer the life-saving treatment in emergencies.

AFSCME members took time out of their busy work schedules to advocate on behalf of themselves and their colleagues. Their efforts will help ensure safer working conditions and essential training and resources for themselves and future correctional officers in Minnesota.

The members had effective conversations with their legislators and plan to return throughout the session to ask lawmakers to support initiatives that are so crucial not just to their own well-being, but to the safety and security of workers, inmates and communities. Many AFSCME Corrections locals plan their own lobby days, and the attendees of Corrections Lobbying Day plan to come back on March 26 for AFSC ME Council 5’s Day on the Hill, where thousands of AFSCME members will flood the Capitol to make sure Minnesota legislators know exactly where we stand, and that we’re holding them accountable.

You can sign up to attend Day on the Hill HERE.