Work release is underutilized in MN prisons

Matthew Henry via Wunderstock

The DOC needlessly squanders taxpayer dollars

I am currently incarcerated at Rush City prison. We as a voiceless, invisible population of society really need the help of our families, friends, and respective communities to come together as a collective to combat mass incarceration.

 I know, I know, I can hear you now saying, “All this crime in the streets, I don’t want to hear that, lock ’em up.” I hear you, and I understand; however, may I give a bit of information you may not be aware of?

First, from myself and the majority of those incarcerated, we offer our deepest apology for the harm we’ve committed against our respective communities and the crime that’s taking place in our communities now. 

When we were convicted or pleaded guilty of our crimes, then sentenced through the criminal injustice system—whether over-sentenced, under-sentenced, wrongfully convicted or otherwise—we were committed to the Department of Corrections (DOC) to serve our sentence. A great deal of your hard-earned taxpayers’ money goes to the DOC for rehabilitating those of us within its care.

Now for one of the DOC’s little ugly secrets: Did you know, community, that the max and close custody prisons have little to no work, work programs, or educational programming available for men in order to gain some skill or be productive while incarcerated? 

And the medium custody facilities are so overcrowded—in Faribault medium, for example, there’s over 2000 incarcerated—that what is available can’t possibly be taken advantage of by those wanting to better themselves because there are long waiting lists. 

If there isn’t enough work and educational programming for most, what solution has the DOC come up with for the incarcerated? “LOCK THEM IN CELLS!” for most of the day. Here at Rush City, half the prison is locked in all day on alternating weekend days.

The lack of work, educational programming, the last two years of the pandemic, lack of treatment programs, mental health therapy, plus being locked in our cells more often, all this has really taken a psychological toll on the incarcerated population. 

As a result, guys are abusing each other’s psych meds in large doses to escape their reality—I’m sure it’s the same in Shakopee, the women’s prison, as well. People are dying from overdoses that look like heart attacks, allergic reactions, or like the suicides some have been committing lately—R.I.P. young Brotha D-Lord—because they see no hope in sight.

Community, every year your tax dollars are promised to go towards “CORRECTING” Minnesota’s crime problem, not making it worse by creating mentally challenged drug addicts, then releasing these same to our respective communities to have the community deal with the resulting repetitive drug addiction and crime. 

But there is a solution, an organization called “Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee,” (IWOC). This organization has been helping the incarcerated invisible population be heard. The latest push is to get the elected officials who created Minnesota Statute 244.065 to force the DOC to go by state statute and not their own DOC policy. The statute states:

“When consistent with the public interest and the public safety, the commissioner of corrections may conditionally release an inmate to work at paid employment, seek employment, or participate in vocational training or educational program, as provided in section 241.26, if the inmate has served at least one half of the term of imprisonment.” 

The DOC has changed this into a department policy that accommodates its own financial aspirations, which allows a small number of people out on work release 12 months prior to a person’s release date. Currently there are only 190 (fiscal year 2020) work release participants, and this is to “enhance public safety” according to the DOC. 

However, empirical research suggests a positive association between employment and a participant in work release deciding not to commit crimes. For each person in work release, taxpayers save up to $16,086 a year. Less than two percent of those on work release committed new offenses while participating in the program. 

Work release is cost-effective. Participants reside in community-based correctional facilities for an average cost of $67 per day. Work release participants contribute to their own transition. During fiscal year 2019, those on work release paid $517,000 in room and board.

If the elected officials, including the governor, stopped spending your hard-earned money outfitting the police in the community to look like soldiers going to war, they could then enforce the DOC to follow the statue handed down by the people you elected, and 20% of the incarcerated population could be released tomorrow on work release. 

The funding that would go towards warehousing would instead go towards drug and alcohol treatment facilities, mental health therapy, sexual crime prevention and treatment facilities, and educational and vocational programming. These are all areas best suited for the incarcerated to transition back into the community through work release—the longer the better. 

Because inside prison, these people have demonstrated over time they have stayed discipline-free and shown a willingness towards restorative justice.

Ya’bes-Azaryah invites readers to go online and sign a petition: