Willow River, Togo Prisons to Close at End of Year

WILLOW RIVER, Minn.– The Minnesota Department of Corrections has announced plans to close prisons in both Willow River and Togo. The reason is budgetary concerns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Officials for the DOC call it a difficult decision to close the facilities. Even though the two prisons are the smallest in the state, they have played a big role over the years.

The department is planning to close the facilities by the end of this year because of a $14 million budget shortfall that could grow to as much as $25 million over the next two fiscal years because of the pandemic.

“This is the challenge. This is the world we live in today,” said Paul Schnell, Commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Corrections.

Closing the two facilities is estimated to save $11 million by the close of this fiscal year. Other cuts will be made through the Department of Correction’s central office and management areas.

The changes come after the state legislature didn’t approve a supplemental budget for the department.

“We certainly had hoped that a supplemental budget would have been approved during the last special legislative session but that didn’t happen,” said Schnell. “Ultimately, in order to make sure that we’re meeting our obligation, we made the decision to make these cuts so that ultimately we balance a budget by the end of this fiscal year.”

There are more than 80 inmates at Willow River and nearly 70 at Togo. They will be transferred to other facilities around the state.

Willow River’s closure surprised Mayor Brent Switzer, who said he had no idea this was coming. Now, many of his community members will be out work.

“It’s going to hurt everything around the town. We need good paying jobs and this is a good source of great paying jobs for the community area. So it’s going to hurt,” said Switzer.

Schnell says staff will try to retain as many jobs as possible through other open positions around the state.

The Willow River facility has been home to the state’s challenge incarceration program for many years. Structured like a boot camp, it gives certain inmates the ability to work in community areas like cleaning streets and parks.

“These were the changes that were easiest to affect with the least amount of overall long term impact to doc operations,” said Schnell. “But that does not minimize the reality and impact on people who will be affected by these cuts.”

The Department of Corrections has no plans at this point to close any other facilities.

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