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Willow River prison to close due to budget ‘crisis’

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WILLOW RIVER, MN. -- Monday, the Minnesota Department of Corrections announced it's plans to shut down two prisons due to a substantial budget crisis.

The move will scatter the prison population around the state, and more than 100 people will be out of work.

By the end of June 2021, DOC officials estimate a $14 million budget hole, causing them to close their Togo and Willow River prisons.

"It was necessary in order to secure a balance of budget for this year and really ready the department for some stability as we go forward for the next biennium," said Paul Schnell, DOC Commissioner.

Corrections Department officials say a combination of health care costs, labor agreements, and planned wage increases led to the deficit.

Even with the cuts announced Monday, officials say that is not enough to offset the budget hole.

"We are going to be left with between 8 and 9 million dollars that we need to implement this year in order to make our biennium budget," said Schnell.

Schnell tells us they will transfer inmates with extra safety measures in place.

"We can accomplish these moves safely and yet recognizing the fact that the high number of asymptomatic people ultimately always are going to create concerns," said Schnell.

As for why the Togo and Willow River locations, it comes down to population size.

"If you close a large facility and your population shifts or changes, it becomes very difficult to reconstitute that facility to meet the population demands," said Schnell.

Corrections department leaders say they plan to relocate the programs.

They're considering 4 other facilities: Lino Lakes, Red Wing, Faribault, and Stillwater.

"We do anticipate that these cuts are permanent cuts to the system," said Schnell.

Earlier this year, it was reported 73 inmates tested positive for COVID-19 at the Willow River site. All have recovered.

Corrections Department officials tell us they plan to close the facilities toward the end of the year or the beginning of next.

Briggs LeSavage

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Ryan Compeau

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