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Critics Target Camp Ripley Adult Program
By Gretchen Lehmann
January 21, 1999
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Criticism is mounting over the new Camp Ripley Adult Work Program. The legislature created the program last year as a low-cost alternative to jailing low-level male offenders. Many county officials and judges complain the program is a carbon-copy of their local corrections programs; they're upset the state is mandating that they participate in and pay for sending prisoners to Camp Ripley.

THE CAMP RIPLEY PROGRAM was designed to solve two nagging problems for Minnesota; how to cut prison costs and how to use extra space at the National Guard camp in Little Falls. The plan was for counties to send certain non-violent male offenders to Ripley. It would cost counties just over ten dollars a day per offender, a much cheaper option to the $50 or $60 a day for a bed at the local jail. Last April, Corrections officials took over one of the buildings at Ripley, converted it into a prison and opened their doors, ready for a flood of inmates. But the flood never came.
Clay:These are open dormitory-type setting, just like the military uses them.
Jerry Clay is Program Manager for the Camp Ripley Work Program. He walks between two identical rows of beds which line the walls of this stark white barracks. On this day, only seven or eight beds show any sign of use.
Clay: We expected we would have waiting lists to get into the program and that didn't happen.
Corrections officials prepared for 120 inmates, and found themselves with an average of 10 to 15 a week. Clay says the slow start was due to the newness of the program. But Hennepin County Chief Judge Dan Mabely says there are other reasons judges aren't sending offenders to Ripley.
Mabely: At least in Hennepin County, we have open spaces in the workhouse that are being paid for every day and the population that was going to go to Ripley is the same population that was going to be sent to the workhouse.
Mabely blames the framers of the work program legislation for the problems at Ripley. The law says only low-level male offenders may be admitted and it also screens out offenders with any record of violent offenses, chemical dependency or mental health problems. Mabely says with that, you've just eliminated the majority of offenders. Another issue, says Mabely, is the law stipulates a judge can choose to sentence offenders to a "more appropriate sanction" than Ripley. Judges are turning to the county sentence-to-serve programs, says Mabely, because they see more benefit for offender and county.
Mabely: So rather than, for example, removing graffiti in Minneapolis, we'd have to send these folks up to Camp Ripley so they can cut grass at Camp Ripley. We think projects should have some relationship to Minneapolis or the local community. Or get rid of the effects that the crime had on the community.
Not every county has open space in their work programs, says Ripley Manager Jerry Clay, and many in outstate Minnesota don't have their own sentence-to-serve programs. The result is they have to pay to send prisoners to other counties. Clay says Ripley is a cheaper alternative for these counties which sends a tough "crime doesn't pay" message to offenders.
Clay: You're taken out of your community, you're put out here in the middle of Minnesota, and it's hard. It's hard being displaced from your community. And many of our people have never worked like they work here at Camp Ripley.
But hard-labor or not, Ottertail County Sheriff Gary Nelson says removing some of these offenders only creates more problems.
Nelson: One of the aspects of the program here is that people are employed here in the community and when we send them away for a little while they lose their jobs; so then, when they come back we have an additional problem to deal with.
Nelson's bottom-line problem with the Camp Ripley program is the cost. And that's the case for most counties. Nelson says he has actually has no complaints about the Ripley Work program, he just doesn't think counties should have to pay for it. He hopes the legislature will change the law to make it a funded program.

At this point, state funding doesn't seem likely, but there have been some changes to the Ripley Program which should increase inmate numbers. A month ago, the program was opened up to probation violators. It's an option many counties have asked for because these offenders often clog up local prison systems at great cost. Sen. Randy Kelly of St. Paul also plans to submit legislation this session which could expand the program even further to include offenders with chemical dependency problems and minor assault charges on their records.

Officials with the Ripley Program say the few changes they have already made have resulted in triple the inmate numbers. But, it still may be an uphill battle to get counties and judges on board with the Adult Work program. In 1998, the state's two largest counties, Hennepin and Ramsey, only sent a combined total of four offenders to Camp Ripley.