When you drive up, it looks like a prison.
“It’s got the fences and concertina wire,” said Eileen Tremblay, a state corrections official who visited Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton, Minn.
Prairie is a private prison, developed by the city of Appleton as an economic development project. It’s run by Corrections Corp. of America, the largest private prison company in the nation. And it is home to 222 Idaho prison inmates, bumped from their home state for lack of space.
The Minnesota facility has proved attractive enough that most of the Idaho inmates sent there were volunteers.
Prairie’s marketing “hook” is that it offers a full program of substance-abuse treatment, work, educational and religious programs, comparable to those offered at the medium-security Idaho State Correctional Institution in Boise.
“I talked to an inmate from Idaho, and his comment was he was doing a life sentence. He had already done 15 years in Idaho, and it was a nice change,” Tremblay said.
Some of the inmates were smokers fleeing the Idaho prison system’s new no-tobacco policy, which went into effect Nov. 4. Others had had trouble with fellow prisoners in Idaho.
The Minnesota prison now is full, with 516 inmates from Idaho, Minnesota and Colorado.
With Idaho prisons bursting at their seams and a 500-bed addition still a year from completion, state corrections officials are making plans to send another 280 or so Idaho inmates to a county-run prison in Texas in February. They’re expecting fewer volunteers in that batch.
Shipping prisoners out of state can be expensive, and it usually means an end to visits from their family members in Idaho.
Don Drum, administrator of management services for the state, said Idaho is paying $49.95 per inmate, per day to the Minnesota prison.
The average cost to house an inmate in an Idaho prison this year is about $45.