Tomassoni calls to preserve Togo, Willow River facilities in special session

The two correctional facilities are the smallest in the state, but valued all the same, the state senator said.

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Members of the Challenge Incarceration Program out of Willow River step in formation as they leave a transitions fair at the Moose Lake prison. (2007 file / News Tribune)

Before a budget ax falls on correctional facilities in Togo and Willow River, state Sen. Dave Tomassoni this week called for a special session aimed at preserving the programs, saying the pending cuts were "unacceptable."

"I am calling upon the governor to call us back into special session for the express purpose of passing a supplemental budget that will address these shortfalls and to ensure that they can continue to operate," Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, said Monday in an online statement first reported by the Mesabi Tribune.

The Minnesota Department of Corrections announced in August it would close correctional facilities in Willow River and Togo due to budget deficiencies.

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Sen. David Tomassoni


Facing a budget shortfall of $14 million this fiscal year, the department is set to close the two northern Minnesota correctional facilities and plans to reduce staff and services and renegotiate service contracts to balance its current $611 million budget. Together, the two correctional facilities' budget is $11 million.

Tomassoni represents Senate District 6, which includes Togo among portions of Itasca and St. Louis counties in the northeastern part of the state. He argued for the rehabilitative outcomes of the facilities and how each provided jobs for their communities.

"We cannot afford to have these facilities — which have an impressive record of successfully turning the lives of incarcerated Minnesotans around — close due to issues that could be fixed tomorrow," Tomassoni wrote. "Democrats and Republicans both agree we need a supplemental budget; we can certainly get back into session and get it done quickly."

Tomassoni added there did not need to be agreement on the bonding bill to get it done.

"These programs and jobs are too important, which is why we need a special session to pass a supplemental budget now,” he said.

The two facilities are the smallest in the state, with Willow River employing 51 full-time staff members and the Togo facility employing 48.

It's the first time the state is closing a correctional facility in more than two decades.

Legislators have considered extending a lifeline to the two facilities , should they pass emergency funding for the Togo and Willow River. State corrections said in August that most of the 100 or so employees between the two facilities would be laid off entirely. Several employees pleaded with legislators earlier this month to fund the facilities.

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