What’s happening at Minnesota federal prisons and courts during the government shutdown?

We Minnesotans are more experienced than most of the country at enduring government shutdowns.  This time, however, it’s not the state that’s closed but the federal government.  The effects on Minnesota are no less severe than the recent state-wide shutdown; they’re simply different.

While many prisons and jails are county or state-run, Minnesota also has four federal prison facilities:  the federal prison camp in Duluth, the correctional institution in Sandstone, another correctional institution in Waseca, and the federal medical center in Rochester.  If you have a friend or relative in one of these institutions, you may be wondering what’s going to happen during the shutdown period.

Inside the prisons

The answer, as far as day-to-day operation of the prisons, is that things are essentially unchanged.  Correctional officers are considered “essential employees” of the federal government and are thus exempted from the shutdown (Congressmen are also considered “essential,” though you may beg to differ on that one).  During the shutdown, the correctional officers will continue to go into the facilities and work with inmates as usual.  However, the officers aren’t getting a good deal here, since they’re not actually being paid for their work, and when they get the paycheck that covers pre-shutdown work, deductions will be taken out for the full two-week period even though the paycheck will only cover six days.

Federal Court Proceedings

What if you or a loved one is headed to trial in federal court?  How will the court proceedings be impacted by the shutdown?

Prior to the shutdown, the plan was that federal courts would remain open for about 10 days, after which their status would be reassessed.  After that, there may be extensive furloughing of staff and reductions in probation and pretrial services, which could have a huge impact on the justice system.  Civil prosecutions, like anti-trust and environmental enforcement actions, will almost certainly be delayed.  Hearings in immigration/deportation cases are also being postponed, unless the person involved is in a detention facility.  However, because the Justice Department hopes to maintain criminal cases without interruption, you should assume that all court dates remain as scheduled unless you are notified otherwise.

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