St. Paul, Minn. — Gov. Pawlenty is proposing that the state borrow a total of $123 million to build more space to keep people locked up. One of the main factors is a dramatic projected increase in the number of sex offenders. The Department of Human Services currently confines about 300 sex offenders the courts have deemed dangerous. Under state law, sex offenders who complete their prison time can then be locked up indefinitely in a psychiatric facility.
Department of Human Services commissioner Kevin Goodno says the number of sex offenders civilly committed to psychiatric facilities is likely to grow by 80 a year.
"We thought there might be a tailing off of the people being civilly committed; we haven't seen that now," he said.
Goodno is calling for a new facility to house 400 sex offenders in Moose Lake, at a cost of nearly $45 million. Goodno's department also wants to start planning for a second building with another 400 beds.
In addition to the secure treatment facilities, the state also expects to need more prison space for sex offenders. Legislation passed last year will lock up dangerous offenders for longer terms and possibly life in prison.
The Legislature also increased penalties for meth-related crimes. Gov. Pawlenty says the stiffer sentences mean the state needs to pay for more prison beds, but he says the cost is justified.
"We have a disproportionate amount of the crime, particularly the violent and serious crime, being committed by repeat offenders, chronic offenders, people with significant repeat issues, and these are the folks that we need to make sure - and others - that are off the street for as long as possible, if we're going to keep Minnesota as safe as possible," Pawlenty said.
Pawlenty will ask the Legislature to expand state prisons in Faribault, Stillwater and Shakopee. When completed, the projects would add more than 400 new prison beds at a cost of more than $50 million. Pawlenty also wants to build a fence and security system in Shakopee at a cost of nearly $5 million.
Corrections Commissioner Joan Fabian says some of the women in the prison are serving time for murder and other violent crimes.
"It's probably the only facility in the country that secures high-risk prisoners that doesn't have a perimeter fence. That is not only for keeping the offenders in, but keeping intruders out. We have a huge problem with intruders planting contraband around the acres," she said.
Fabian says her department is working with neighbors who live near the prison to design an attractive fence. But Shakopee Mayor John Schmitt says neighbors don't believe the fence will ever be attractive.
"I don't care if it's chain-link or what it is, it's a 12-foot fence," says Schmitt. He adds that the fence will change what's been a positive relationship between the prison and the community.
"The average individual that drives by never gives it a second thought. You put a 12-foot wall around it, and you immediately change the character of the neighborhood. Who would choose, then, to live next to something that has a 12-foot wall around it?"
Schmitt says he's disappointed that Gov. Pawlenty is recommending the state build the fence, and says Shakopee residents will have to figure out their next step to try to stop it.
Pawlenty's other prison recommendations will likely be less controversial, but the price tag could be a problem. The chair of the Senate Capital Investment Committee, DFLer Keith Langseth of Glyndon, says he's not sure the Legislature needs to approve all of the prison projects this year. He also wants to make sure that higher education doesn't get short shrift this year. In even-numbered years, the Legislature typically approves a sizeable bill that authorizes the state to issue bonds to pay for construction projects. Langseth says the state should borrow about $965 million this year.
"There's a lot of needs, and the cost of this building is going up much faster than revenues ... because in the last couple, three years, the steel and concrete have just shot way up, and so that means that for each dollar, we're just going to get considerably less," according to Langseth.
Pawlenty has already proposed borrowing about $187 million for environmental projects. He will release his entire bonding proposal on January 17, and says he will call for borrowing less than Langseth will.