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Shakopee women's prison getting fence after numerous requests, escapes

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"MCF-Shakopee is the only women’s correctional facility in the nation to house maximum custody level offenders without a perimeter fence."

The Shakopee women's correctional facility lists that fact as its top notable feature on the Department of Corrections website. The prison has 604 adult offenders on site as of May 20, including 98 homicide sentences and 55 assault sentences being served.

And it has no fence around its grounds – only a hedge.

After years of funding requests and numerous escape attempts, that's finally about to change.

The $1.1 billion bonding bill passed by the state Legislature last week includes nearly $5.4 million in funding for a new fence at the Shakopee facility (see the bottom of Page 4).

"Thank you to Sen Pratt for his hard work in helping to get this done!!" Shakopee Mayor Brad Tabke wrote on his Facebook page shortly after the construction package passed.

Long Battle

The debate over whether to build a fence around the facility has been going on for so long, the Daily Show on Comedy Central did an on-site report about the long-winded saga – all the way back in 2006. Eight years later, the story is finally near its end.

The Shakopee facility, which opened in 1986, has never had a fence along the 4,300-foot perimeter. Only a hedge.

Tabke says for years, the state Legislature has denied funding requests by the Minnesota Department of Corrections to build a fence surrounding the prison, which is also located across the street from an elementary school, according to Shakopee Valley News.

That includes a proposal introduced by Pratt in 2013 that had bipartisan support, yet was left out of the House bonding bill, the Eden Prairie News reports. A proposal was left out of the 2012 bonding bill as well.

According to the paper, prison officials say the new fence will be constructed with a combination of brick columns and 12-foot-high wrought iron fencing. "High tech" security will be implemented to better surveillance as well.

Escape Prompts Second Look

Shakopee Warden Tracy Beltz told KARE 11 in 2012 that as many as seven inmates have escaped from the facility since 1995.

That number jumped up to eight on Dec. 2, 2013, when a woman managed to get out of the facility. Around 7 p.m., a prisoner escaped for about 23 minutes, before she was located in a nearby residential neighborhood and taken back into custody. No one was hurt.

The incident prompted the mayor to once again plea for fence funding, calling the escape "entirely preventable" and pointing out how often a request has been denied.

“This prison is regrettably located in a residential area and has no fence on its perimeter,” Tabke says. “When escapes happen at a prison with no fence that houses nonviolent and violent criminals, today’s event is the best possible outcome.”

A video on the official funding request website notes there have also been 19 "intrusions" reported since 2008.

Against the Fence

Shakopee resident Dennis Hron has been a vocal anti-fence advocate for year – he was even featured in the "Daily Show" clip from 2006. Most recently, he wrote a letter to the Eden Prairie News and its sister publications, saying a barrier around the correctional facility would devalue homes in the surrounding area.

"The minute you put up a fence it will be a prison from then on and attitudes will change," he wrote. "They will get worse for the inmates as well as the entire area around the prison."

MPR notes, when the facility was built 28 years ago, state officials promised there would be no fence.

There is currently no timeline on the newly approved fence's construction.

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Shakopee City Council supports funding for prison fence

Despite opposition from neighbors, the city agreed to a $5.4 million state allocation to put a fence around the women's prison in Shakopee. According to the Star Tribune, Warden Tracy Beltz says the design is "more decorative and stately, with wrought iron and brick columns."