Update on DOC Operations and Our Work

The Department of Corrections went to the Legislature with a supplemental budget request ($18 million). This request would have addressed a structural shortfall in funding at the Department of Corrections and was a top legislative priority for AFSCME Council 5. 

The MN House of Representatives passed legislation which included additional DOC funding. Ultimately, the MN Senate did not pass this funding and a deficit has accumulated at an unsustainable rate since. 

On August 3rd, Commissioner Paul Schnell proposed closing two facilities, Togo and Willow River, in an effort to address the structural funding deficiency. Later that day, Julie Bleyhl, Executive Director of AFSCME Council 5, released a statement opposing the proposed closures and pointing out the success of the Challenge Incarceration Program and promising to mobilize our resources to fight layoffs and service delays. 

Legal Injunction: One suggestion we have heard is to pursue a formal injunction to stop the Commissioner from moving the Challenge Incarceration Program and closing the Togo and Willow River facilities. This was among the first options we analyzed. However, it’s unlikely we have the legal standing to request an injunction successfully. If we could prove our legal standing, we would still be unlikely to prevail in an injunction because the Commissioner is not required, by statute, to operate the Challenge Incarceration Program or to admit new people into the program. In theory, the Commissioner could cease the program altogether by denying new participants and begin operating a similar program under a different name at whatever facility he chooses. 

What has happened?

Since a legal injunction is not attainable, our goal is to ensure the legislature, and AFSCME members, have a role in whatever a DOC restructure looks like (as opposed to Commissioner Schnell deciding on his own) and to guarantee the best terms for our members if the proposed closures proceed. To do that, Council 5 staff have:

  • Opposed the closure of Willow River and Togo.
  • Initiated an automated letter-writing campaign for members to contact their legislators. 
  • Worked with legislative leaders to ensure the legislature, and AFSCME members, have a voice and a role if the Department of Corrections goes through a restructure. 
  • Continued to push for the supplemental budget request. 
  • Coordinated with impacted AFSCME members to help them understand their options if we are unable to stop the proposed closures. 
  • Worked with DOC staff to ensure the best possible transition if the closures do occur. 
  • Circulated a petition asking legislators and the Governor to fully fund programs to avoid facility closures and suspend the proposed closures until legislative deliberations occur. 

Moving Forward: The next special session of the Minnesota Legislature is likely to begin in mid-September. Timing is very important when creating legislative pressure. We will be holding legislative phone banks to connect AFSCME members from DOC to AFSCME members outside of DOC to generate additional contacts into legislative offices. This phoning will occur immediately prior to the next special session, as determined by elected leaders of the Corrections Policy Committee.