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Dayton opens door to buying private Minnesota prison, someday

ST. PAUL - Gov. Mark Dayton continues to say he would veto a bill to open a shuttered western Minnesota private prison, but Wednesday said that under certain circumstances could consider buying the facility.

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Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton says on Wednesday, March 23, 2016, that there could be circumstances where he may support the state buying a closed western Minnesota prison. However, he said, that is too expensive now. Don Davis / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL – Gov. Mark Dayton continues to say he would veto a bill to open a shuttered western Minnesota private prison, but Wednesday said that under certain circumstances could consider buying the facility.

"It is not going to happen this session, unless they override my veto," Dayton told reporters.

The Democratic governor said the only way he would consider using the Appleton prison "would be to buy it." He said he understands Correction Corporation of America would be willing to sell the 1,600-bed facility for $100 million.

However, he said, the prison would need rehabilitation. "That is a hugely expensive proposition."

Dayton said the Appleton plan lacks vetting, but he did not spell out exactly what would need to happen for him to propose buying the facility.

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That he ever could consider using the prison came as a surprise after he and his corrections commissioner have said many times that they oppose its use.

"The building of a new prison or leasing of a prison are not on the Department of Corrections plate nor is it on the governor's plate," Corrections Commissioner Thomas Roy told a House committee Tuesday.

Dayton and Roy propose adding beds to expanding prisons to accommodate more than 500 inmates who now are housed in county jails.

Predictions are that prison overcrowding will continue, prompting discussion about reopening Appleton's Prairie Correctional Facility, which closed in 2010 after Minnesota and other states began removing prisoners.

"I would veto that bill this session," he said. "It has not been given any forethought."

Bill sponsor Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, said he hopes the governor and Senate Democrats can better understand his plan.

"It's time for Governor Dayton to finally address this crisis by supporting the reopening of the Prairie Correctional Facility and providing hundreds of good-paying union jobs to unemployed Swift County residents," Miller said.

A House committee on Tuesday approved Miller's bill, but it came after the meeting went into recess when members of the Twin Cities' black community interrupted pro-prison testifiers , saying they preferred state money go to social services, education and other programs than to prisons.

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Dayton said prison overcrowding is a serious issue.

"We are going to have to face up with this overcrowding," he said.

Appleton-area prison supporters told the House committee Tuesday that the prison would help an area with higher unemployment than many places in the state.

Dayton said other methods are needed to help Appleton.

"We will work with them on economic development," the governor said. "I understand that jobs are very, very important there, as they are on the (Iron) Range."

Even though he said that there "is nothing in sight that provides the kind of job impact as that prison," he cannot support them "at any price."

"My job is to look at what is best for Appleton, as well as all of Minnesota," he said.

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