State’s different prisons all serve different functions

Judge Gregg Galler
Judge Greg Galler

You probably know that Washington County is home to two state prisons: The Stillwater prison, which is actually in Bayport, and the Oak Park Heights prison. Did you know that there are also eight other prisons in Minnesota? Nine of the facilities are for men. The state’s only women’s prison is in Shakopee.

Why are there so many prisons? Aren’t they all the same?

First, understand that a prison is different than a jail. A jail is a county facility where inmates are either awaiting trial or typically serving sentences of less than one year for misdemeanors, or gross misdemeanors such as assault, theft, or DWI. Prisons are run by the state, and prison inmates are serving time for felonies.
Prisons are set up in several different ways. One of the main methods deals with the “custody classification system.” This system differentiates between the levels of security necessary for inmates.

The most dangerous offenders are kept at a level 5 maximum security prison. Those who are considered the least dangerous, including some who are nearing release, could be kept at a level 1 minimum security prison.

When a man is sentenced to prison in Minnesota, he initially is sent to the St. Cloud prison. During the first two months, the inmate receives a medical and mental health evaluation. He undergoes assessments to determine if he has drug or alcohol dependency problems and to test his cognitive abilities. After reviewing the evaluations and considering any special risk factors, the State Department of Corrections places the inmate in the prison they believe best fits him.

Prisoners with specific needs such as obtaining a high school degree or in developing useful work skills are provided classes to reach those goals. There are also special units in some prisons to treat individuals with physical or mental health problems. Prisons also provide treatment for sex offenders and inmates addicted to alcohol or drugs.

Although there is overlap in how prisons are set up, each of Minnesota’s prisons also develops their own look and feel based on the results they are designed to achieve.
For example, the Faribault prison has extra space for inmates needing chemical dependency treatment. The Moose Lake prison has extra space for inmates requiring sex-offender treatment.

The Oak Park Heights prison houses inmates the state has determined need the very highest level of security. The Stillwater prison in Bayport houses inmates typically serving relatively longer sentences. In comparison, inmates in St. Cloud have relatively shorter sentences.

The Lino Lakes prison has both medium- and a minimum-security units. Many offenders nearing the end of their sentences may be transferred to Lino Lakes as they near discharge and prepare for a return to society.

In all, Minnesota’s prisons house approximately 9,500 adult inmates at an annual cost of approximately $465 million. To learn more, the DOC web site is full of interesting information about the operation of Minnesota’s prisons.

Judge Greg Galler is chambered in Washington County. If you have a general question about the law or courts for Judge Galler, send your question to the editor of this newspaper. Learn more about Judge Galler, or listen to a podcast of his columns at