Judicial Review - Minnesota’s prison system

Greg Galler
District Court Judge

You probably know that there are two prisons in Washington County:  The Stillwater prison (which is actually in Bayport) and the Oak Park Heights prison. 

Did you know that there are also eight other prisons in Minnesota?  Nine are for men. The State’s only women’s prison is in Shakopee.

Why are there so many prisons? Aren’t they all the same?

First, understand that a prison is different than a jail. A jail is a county facility where inmates are either awaiting trial or are typically serving sentences of less than one year’s time for misdemeanors or gross misdemeanors, such as assault, theft, or DWI.   Prisons are run by the State. Prison inmates are serving time for felonies.   

Prisons are set up in a number of different ways, one of the main ways deals with the “custody classification system.” This system differentiates between the levels of security necessary for inmates.

The most dangerous offenders are kept at a level 5 maximum security prison. Those who are considered the least dangerous, including some who are nearing release, could be kept at a level 1 minimum security prison.

When a man is sentenced to prison in Minnesota he is initially sent to the St. Cloud prison. During the first two months he will receive a medical and mental health evaluation. He will also undergo assessments to determine if he has any drug or alcohol dependency problems and to test his cognitive abilities. 

After reviewing the evaluations and considering any special risk factors, the Corrections Department will place him in the prison they believe best fitted for him. Prisoners who have specific needs such as obtaining a high school degree or in developing useful work skills are provided with classes to reach those goals. 

There are also special units within some prisons to treat individuals with physical or mental health problems. Prisons also provide treatment for sex offenders as well as for those addicted to alcohol or drugs. 

While there is overlap in the way prisons are set up, each of Minnesota’s prisons also develop their own look and feel based on the results they are designed to achieve.

For example, the Faribault prison has extra space for inmates needing chemical dependency treatment. The prison in Moose Lake has extra space for those who require sex offender treatment. The Oak Park Heights prison houses those people that the State has determined need the very highest level of security.   

The Stillwater prison houses inmates typically serving relatively longer sentences. In comparison, the inmates in St. Cloud have relatively shorter sentences. The Lino Lakes prison has both a medium and a minimum security unit.  

Many offenders who are nearing the end of their sentences may be transferred to Lino Lakes as they approach discharge and prepare for a return to society.

In all, Minnesota’s prisons house approximately 9,500 adult inmates at an annual cost of approximately 465 million dollars.

To learn more, the Corrections Department website is filled with interesting information about the operation of Minnesota’s prisons. Judge Galler is chambered in Washington County. 

If you have a general question about the law or courts for Judge Galler, send your question to the editor of this newspaper. Learn more about Judge Galler, or listen to a podcast of his columns at www.judgegreggaller.com.

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