MOOSE LAKE, Minn. — The Minnesota Correctional Facility held its 25-year anniversary celebration for the Moose Lake Prison on June 18. The celebration featured an open house format for retirees, local government officials, central office senior management, former wardens and current Department of Corrections (DOC) staff.
The festivities began with a presentation of the colors by the WRML Honor Guard and a march and cadence by offenders housed in the Challenge Incarceration Program (CIP) facility. Numerous people gave speeches, including Warden Becky Dooley, Minnesota Commissioner of Corrections Tom Roy, former Senator Becky Lourey, current Senator Tony Lourey, Representative Tim Faust and Lt. Governor Yvonne-Prettner.
The theme for the celebration was “25 Years of Continuous Change,” as reflected in Associate Warden on Operations Jim Benson’s speech during the ceremony. Benson watched the prison change and develop over the last 25 years, working under eight different wardens at the Moose Lake facility and its partner site, Willow River. The Moose Lake facility, which was formerly the Moose Lake State Hospital, was converted to a prison by the DOC in 1988.
Construction on the newly converted prison began in 1993 and was completed in 1997. The completed facility is 676,509 square feet spread over 46 buildings. The perimeter fence of the facility encloses 29 acres of land, with an additional 83 acres spanning the area outside the fence. It is a level three, medium-security site housing 1,045 male inmates.
The expansion of the prison included hiring new corrections officers with diverse background experiences. “About one-third of the new officers came from the RTC as Human Service Technicians, about one-third was officer transfers from other DOC facilities and the final third came from the local community. This blend of staff develops the culture that still exists today,” Benson said during his speech.
While the development of the Moose Lake Prison certainly provided necessary renovations and jobs for community members over the last 25 years, it also provided opportunities for the inmates themselves to give back to the community as well. Several programs have developed over the years to increase their involvement and allow them to gain a sense of worth out of their time in prison. Inmates participate in the Moose Lake Restorative Justice Committee and write apology letters to victims. Offenders housed at the CIP facility “work at local churches, schools and nonprofit agencies, providing manual labor on assigned projects such as lawn care, brush removal, painting and cleaning,” Benson said.
When construction work began to repurpose the facility, the main goal was, according to Benson, “to bring the site up to current life and safety codes and add limited security features.” This included updating the fire alarm system and exit lighting, adding a fire sprinkler system, updating the water and electrical systems, adding security lighting, a perimeter fence, security alarm systems and camera system, adding a segregation unit, and adding a gym and industry building. “Most buildings received little renovation except for life/safety and security systems,."
One notable feature of the facility’s design is the housing area. “The Moose Lake site was not renovated to duplicate a typical prison with locking single or double wet cells; it’s more like a college dormitory with multiple occupancy dorm rooms (up to eight occupants) with common area bathrooms and showers in each living unit,” Benson said.
There are several projects in the works to continue improving the facility in the future as well. Current construction efforts include “infrastructure upgrades such as lining the sewer pipes to prevent inflow of ground water into the sewer system, erecting a new water tower, replacing the cooling systems for the walk-in refrigerators and freezers and upgrading the water softeners,” Benson said. Officials at the prison continuously request funds to maintain the buildings and operations of the facility.