The True Cost of Closing Togo and Willow River CIP

Matt Stone has been a Correctional Officer at MCF-Togo since 2012 and once he received an offer to use his leadership skills and background in the outdoors at the Minnesota Department of Corrections, he gladly accepted the position and moved his wife and 1-year old adopted son up north. Ask anybody who works at the Togo and Willow River facilities and surrounding residents, they will tell you the reason why the Challenge Incarceration Program (CIP) is incredibly successful at lowering recidivism and prison re-entry is due to its rural location and ability to connect with nature and strengthen the surrounding communities. This isn’t a normal prison program, it’s truly integrated in the wider community. The offenders in CIP are not seen only as inmates, but as community builders -especially when offenders filled sandbags several years ago when local communities were facing significant flooding. They did that work with heart, determination, and love. These features of the program allow offenders to disconnect from a traditional prison setting and gain new skills to better enter back into society once their sentence is complete. As Matt likes to say “in order to take the prison out of the offender, you must first take the offender out of the prison.” 

Beginning in 2002, Matt started working with at-risk youth, who were primarily from the Twin Cities metropolitan area. He said, “I worked with programs for grades 3rd-12th and were targeted towards inner-city children and I walked kids through a journey of loving the natural world. We studied fish, looked at insects and placed slides under microscopes to broaden their knowledge base and show kids a view of the world they live in that they might not have gotten the chance to see otherwise.” When Matt first heard of the CIP program at MCF-Togo he said, “I knew I belonged there.” 

“Closing the Togo and Willow River facilities not only will have a negative impact on public safety and will close a program that save the state millions of dollars, but it puts the livelihoods of over 100 of our brothers and sisters, their families and communities at risk,” said Sergeant Stone. 

“For my family, we have lived a life of medical emergency after another for seven years. Late night trips to the hospital, many airplane and helicopter flights, administering medication not yet approved by the FDA to our two-year-old son, who by age two had five brain surgeries in order to save his life,” said Matt. “My wife and I had many crying and tear-filled nights and massive uncertainty. Like many parents with children, we worried often and tried the best we could to protect them. Our medical emergencies have since stabilized and we now finally have a home we proudly call our own. I repeatedly said over the last several years that I didn’t know how we would have survived through all of this without a stable job and strong health benefits we have with our work at the Togo correctional facility.” 

Our Jobs Matter to Minnesota

“I understand the power the CIP program has as it relates to its current locations. With all of the wilderness guiding I have done, I have seen the woods change people,” said Sergeant Stone. “I have taught men with Downs Syndrome how to fish, sat around camp fires and watched mental and emotional walls come down and I have seen hundreds of eyes go from fear to joy as they entered natural surroundings this program provides. The CIP program is not transferable. My job is to make good neighbors and to take an offender and walk them through a proven and successful program and watch them exit as contributing citizens of our state.”

Sergeant Matt Stone is representative of the men and women who conduct themselves with excellence and always with Minnesotans’ best interests at heart: Improving and protecting public safety, transforming lives, securing those who are in the state’s custody and strengthening our communities. 

Matt has one simple message: “Do not close these two incredibly successful programs at Togo and Willow River -we save the state millions of dollars by reducing prison re-entry. As a state, we need to be investing in programs like CIP, not slating them for closure."