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State money wanted for correctional farm

ST. PAUL -- The Northeast Regional Corrections Center is a unique way to house incarcerated men. Now, its leaders are looking for an infusion of state cash to update some buildings, many of which date back to the 1930s.Sponsored by Rep. Jason Met...

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ST. PAUL - The Northeast Regional Corrections Center is a unique way to house incarcerated men.

Now, its leaders are looking for an infusion of state cash to update some buildings, many of which date back to the 1930s.
Sponsored by Rep. Jason Metsa, D-Virginia, legislation would provide $2.85 million in state bond proceeds for that purpose. The bill was held over Tuesday by the House State Government Finance Committee. A companion bill, sponsored by Sen. David Tomassoni, D-Chisholm, awaits action by the Senate Capital Investment Committee.
Located about 15 miles north of Duluth in Saginaw, the center is Minnesota’s only correctional working farm. About 800 of the facility’s 3,200 acres are farmed.
“We struggle to find a similar model anywhere in the country,” said Kay Arola, executive director of Arrowhead Regional Corrections, a joint powers agency that serves Carlton, Cook, Koochiching, Lake and St. Louis counties.
In addition to educational programming, inmates at the 144-bed correctional facility help with growing crops, including many vegetables, and they aid in raising - and processing - chickens, pigs and turkeys. Everything produced is used to feed the men and offset food costs.
“NERCC provides people sentenced there productive days and saves money for the state,” said Rep. Mary Murphy, D-Hermantown.
“I love this idea,” said Rep. Carolyn Laine, D-Columbia Heights. “It’s sort of like raising the chickens here: We put them in little cages or we put them in a natural setting. They thrive or they don’t.”
The request is to continue asset preservation by repairing 14 of the 42 campus buildings - including addressing structural deficiencies, in part - by replacing roofs and heating and ventilation systems with more energy-efficient products. The request marks the third phase of center improvements.
Arola said 83 percent of men who serve their sentence at NERCC do not commit another felony within three years of their release. The state average is 66 percent.
“The better job we do, the less likely it is that they will become a state prisoner,” Arola said.

Session Daily is an online nonpartisan Minnesota House news service at www.house.leg.state.mn.us/sessiondaily .

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