Lawmakers get a private briefing on prison safety needs

October 8, 2018

The head of the Department of Corrections met with a small group of lawmakers and Dayton administration officials to outline budget needs for increased staffing and security.

ST. PAUL — Lawmakers could open meetings on prison safety in Minnesota as soon as next month.

That’s the word after a meeting with DFLers and Republicans, officials with the Department of Corrections and the governor’s office at the Capitol on Wednesday. The meeting came just a day after the funeral of corrections officer Joseph Parise, the second member of the state’s prison staff to die in the line of duty in three months.

Brooklyn Center state Rep. Debra Hilstrom, lead DFLer on the House Public Safety committee, was among those in the room and said others joined by phone.

“It wasn’t confrontational. It was a fact finding, or request for information, so we can fact find,” Hilstrom said. “I expect there will be legislative hearings after the election. They’ll be very bi-partisan, to just get to the bottom of what it is that needs to be done to ensure the safety of everyone.”

Hilstrom said lawmakers have already had extensive discussions about prison spending in recent years and that she’s sponsored a bill to add 150 corrections officers to prison staffing — without success.

KSTP-TV said more than a dozen lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton’s chief of staff, as well as corrections commissioner Tom Roy were in the meeting. A statement from the Department of Corrections following the meeting said Roy will address safety, staffing, prison procedures and policies with state officials ahead of the 2019 legislative session.

The statement also said the department has an outstanding request to the Legislature for nearly 190 additional corrections officers.

“There’s always additional needs, and many times in the legislature, there’s a push and a pull,” said Hilstrom, who is leaving the legislature after an unsuccessful run for attorney general. “Do you do reform, to have fewer people end up in prison and spend your money there? Do you spend more money actually on corrections officers? Or, do you spend your money on (chemical dependency or sexual offender) treatment?”

Hilstrom said she expects the fact-finding hearings at the Capitol will include both the House and Senate and could include a request to the Office of the Legislative Auditor to look into the situation.

Before Parise’s death, corrections officer Joseph Gomm was assaulted and killed at the prison in Stillwater. A 42-year-old inmate already sentenced for a 2002 slaying has been charged with first degree murder in Gomm’s death.

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