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Department of Corrections touts Walz proposal during Moose Lake prison tour

Minnesota Correctional Facility-Moose Lake. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal1 / 2
Minnesota Department of Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell (right) and Warden Nate Knutson share a laugh with media as the interview begins Wednesday afternoon. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal2 / 2

The inmates' rooms are set up like college dorm rooms. This room has six beds. Jame Lund/Pine JournalMOOSE LAKE — As snow blanketed vast swaths of Minnesota on Wednesday, the Department of Corrections offered a rare glimpse inside one of its facilities.

The Minnesota Correctional Facility-Moose Lake's warden, Nate Knutson, took members of the media on a tour of the facility, showing off some educational opportunities offered to offenders to help them transition back into civilian life once they have served their sentence.

New DOC Commissioner Paul Schell, who is touring all DOC facilities in Minnesota, is touting Gov. Tim Walz's budget proposal, which increases the number of correctional officers and other staff, but he said the budget also looks at ways to relieve pressure on Moose Lake and other DOC facilities.

"As many people know, we have high numbers of offenders that do return on technical violations," Schell said. "They engage in non-criminal behavior, but they come back on a technical violation. The churn of that has a big impact on our facilities. We believe that those people can be better managed in the community. Local communities are going to need resources to do that and this budget includes some of that."

The Moose Lake facility, a medium-security prison that opened in 1988, houses over 1,000 male offenders — more than 750 of whom were convicted of drug offenses or criminal sexual misconduct, according to a daily inmate profile report.

Officials address attacks

Knutson said staff safety is always the top priority at Moose Lake. Those efforts are under constant review, he said, particularly in the wake two high-profile attacks in the past year.

A client slashed the throat of a counselor Jan. 31 at the Department of Human Services' Moose Lake Minnesota Sex Offender Program — a separate building unaffiliated with the Moose Lake Correctional Facility.

In the other incident, a staff member was fatally beaten in a MINNCOR workshop July 18 at the Stillwater Correctional Facility.

On average, there are one or two incidents of violence among offenders per week, according to Knutson, but only twice during his 19 years at Moose Lake has a prisoner attacked a staff member.

Life on the inside

The tour Wednesday showed the various living situations inmates can experience, from a larger cell housing eight men to smaller single-bunk rooms. The offenders can purchase small TVs and tablets to use in the rooms, but Knutson said the content they are allowed to have on the devices is tightly controlled and monitored by staff.

The inmates sew all of the clothes needed in the prison as well as for all of the prisons in Minnesota. Jamie Lund/Pine JournalTypically, it takes an inmate 18-22 months of good behavior to work their way into a single-bunk room.

Knutson showed one of the facility's day rooms, where a pair of inmates were watching "SportsCenter" on ESPN.

Al Larson, the director of MINNCOR Industries at Moose Lake, led a tour through the facility sewing shop. MINNCOR manufactures high-visibility vests and all the clothes worn by offenders in DOC facilities.

Those working for MINNCOR learn to sew during their time at Moose Lake and eventually cut and sew an entire garment they can take with them at the end of their sentence as a portfolio in potential job interviews.

Similarly, the print shop at the Moose Lake facility helps offenders to design and print a sample while working to take with them when they leave.

The prison focuses on providing vocational training to inmates with the goal of helping those who are released find jobs and reduce rates of recidivism.

The vocation training program has a wood shop where offenders learn to use tools and construction techniques.

"When all is said and done, they will have the basics of construction," Knutson said. "It's very satisfying to see them coming in here and not being able to drive a nail and they leave able to frame a small house."

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb has been a reporter for the Pine Journal since October 2018. He previously worked as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle from 2015-2018. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. 

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