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Lino Lakes Prison Celebrates 50 Years

In September, the Quad Community Press featured the Lino Lakes 50th anniversary celebration:

Lino Lakes Prison Celebrates 50 Years
Ryan Howard, Editor
LINO LAKES — Though they all house inmates, prisons have a variety of functions and purposes at play within their walls. Ask Eddie Miles Jr., the warden of the Lino Lakes Minnesota Correctional Facility, what his prison is all about and he’s quick to respond.
“We pride ourselves on preparing our guys for release,” he said.
In other words, most inmates in the Lino Lakes prison are going through programming that, once they’re out of prison, will hopefully help them stay out.
The prison is the primary treatment facility for the Minnesota Department of Corrections, but it wasn’t always that way. Last week, prison employees past and present and representatives for the DOC were on hand to celebrate the facility’s 50th year in operation. One of the speakers at the ceremony was Mark Mikel, a retired DOC lieutenant who spent most of his 30 years of service at the Lino Lakes facility. When he started working at the prison in 1978, there were only a couple hundred prisoners incarcerated there. When he left, there were about 1,200 prisoners, the facility had expanded, and Mikel said the prison’s competent staff rolled with every request the DOC had for it.
“[The] Lino Lakes [prison] has been a chameleon through all the changes,” he said.
When the prison site was first established, it was not much like the prison there today. The Minnesota Reception and Diagnostic Center opened its doors in 1963, housing juvenile and “youthful” (ages 18 to 21) offenders and providing treatment for emotionally disturbed kids. The center continued in that function for about a decade, though a DOC guard training program was also established at the site in 1971 (Mikel noted that he first experienced Lino Lakes as a training facility, where he memorably helped extinguish a fellow trainee who was accidentally set on fire).
In 1975, the facility transitioned into housing adults. In 1978, it became the state’s first medium-security prison, housing adult males (a youth presence remains nearby, with the Anoka County Juvenile Center next door). Much of the prison’s emphasis at the time was on vocational skills.
In 1993, however, the wood industry program and print shop were moved to other prisons, and programs and facilities to treat sex and chemical offenders were set up. In 1997, the DOC made treatment the prison’s primary goal, a priority it retains to this day. It currently houses about 1,300 male inmates and is staffed by more than 450 employees.
During the celebration ceremony, DOC Commissioner Tom Roy said that he often hears people say how they feel lucky to not be in a prison like the Lino Lakes facility. However, he said, it’s good that places like the prison exist.
“How lucky we are that there are people in a facility like this,” he said.
Chemical dependency is one of the important treatment programs at the prison. Rhonda Vahle, a program management director at the prison,
said the chemical dependency treatment program takes the cognitive behavior approach of identifying the thinking behind a person’s actions and applies another layer.
“What we do here is also talk about their criminality and the core beliefs that go along with their criminality,” said Vahle, who noted that the approach often works where previous treatment failed.
“Often what the offenders will say is that [the criminality aspect] was the piece that was missing,” she said.
The prison is always looking for new ways to help its prisoners, and one noticeable way was on hand during the ceremony: dogs. Several canines waited patiently as their masters talked about the new Leader Dog and BARK programs going on at the prison, in which inmates foster and train dogs that are eventually used as guide dogs for blind people (the
Leader Dog program) or as pets (BARK).
Though a recent addition to the Lino Lakes prison, Leader Dog has been allowing inmates to care for its young dogs for about a decade, said Cheryl Bender, corrections program director and one of the organizers of the local Leader Dog program.
“The recipients of the dogs began requesting [prison-raised] dogs [specifically],” she explained.
The dogs are very well-trained in prison, as they receive nearly constant attention from inmates and are sometimes brought home by prison employees on weekends, where they can become acclimated to more people and environments. Giving an inmate a dog to take care of can also instill positive qualities in him. Bender recalled one story from a different prison in which a man convicted of murder empathized with his victim’s family for the first time after the dog he’d raised for a year was taken away to be placed with an owner.
“It teaches them a lot about patience and responsibility,” she said.
Though the prison has been many things to many people, Miles believes the overall mission is the same for everyone and will remain so for the next 50 years.
“Our goal is to reduce victims and make a safer Minnesota,” he said.