Iron Range Communities, Officials Rally in Nashwauk to Keep Togo Prison Open

They say if the Governor needs to make cuts to address the state's budget, a big source of jobs and criminal reform on the Range isn't the place to do it.

DULUTH, Minn.- A packed crowd in Nashwauk rallied around keeping the Minnesota Correctional Facilities in Togo and Willow River open.

“Keep the program that is actually putting people, taking people out of prisons and putting them to work,” said District 6 Senator David Tomassoni.

Hundreds from both sides of the political aisle packed the Nashwauk Area Veterans Memorial Park, including local and state officials, Department of Corrections workers, and community members — all rallying behind a cry to save the MCF-Togo.

“Governor Walz, I don’t think he’d make this choice on his own I think he is facing a deficit and that’s hard and you have to go back to the drawing board and find another place to cut,” District 6A State Representative Julie Sandstede said. “Not here.”

Earlier this month, Minnesota Department of Corrections announced plans to close state correctional facilities in Togo and Willow River to address an approximately $14 million budget deficit.

Immediately both Republican and DFL officials adamantly asked Gov. Walz to reconsider.

“Maybe the decision didn’t need to be made now,” said Tomassoni. “Because we are in the throws of a budget year that goes until June 20th 2021 and I think there’s a way to be able to find some money before closure is the absolute necessity.”

The MCF-Togo houses up to 90 nonviolent adult males in the Challenge Incarceration Program, or CIP. “This is a program that saves and changes lives,” Sandstede said.

CIP is a minimum security boot camp that includes substance use disorder treatment, MINNCOR industries firewood bundling for state parks, and community work crews for projects such as Habitat for Humanity, and building 1500 access ramps for Access North.

“Part of the success of the CIP program in Togo is because of the location,” Sandstede said. “It is remote it’s a place where people who really wrestle with demons in their life go to find some guidance and some healing.”

According to officials, CIP participants’ chances of reoffending with a new felony conviction drop by 32% and their chances for reincarceration for a new crime are decreased by 35%.

The program also creates about 60 jobs on the Iron Range. “For every job that we lose on the Iron Range it’s like losing 10 jobs to 100 jobs in the metro area,” said Rep. Sandstede.

Families of those Iron Range workers said losing those jobs would turn their lives upside down.

“We would be forced to move,” Keira Porter, the wife of a MCF-Togo employee said. “My husband has worked for the Department of Corrections for 16 years and it’s not an option for him not to work there.”

“So that would mean moving our family away from their grandparents, their cousins, their school,” she said, “it would be horrific.”

Throughout the rally, speakers pointed out a sign in the audience held by Porter’s son, reading “Save Our Daddy’s Job.”

It is for them and the inmates those workers help that the crowd at the rally stand in support, and in hope.

“It’s nice that people are here and supporting us and that’s all we can ask for,” Porter said.

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