Creating the Will To Do Right


Discovering the History Behind the Minnesota Department of Corrections

The Minnesota Department of Corrections was created to help facilitate and streamline the many prisons and reform schools within the state.  Though the department was only established in 1959, there is a long and rich history to Minnesota’s correctional institutions that started before even the state did.

An Early History

While the department now runs twelve correctional institutions all over the state, it all started with one territorial prison at Stillwater.  This was the first prison built in the territory and was founded in 1853, five years before the state of Minnesota came into existence.  However, once the state was established, Stillwater also became the first state prison.  The second correctional institute wasn’t opened until several years later, in 1867.  It was a reform school for children and was called the House of Refuge for Juveniles, later renamed the Minnesota State Reform School.  In many ways it was a revolutionary development in reform schools, because it was the first to not use barred windows or prison walls.

In 1883 the prison system was given an overhaul when the state legislature created a State Board of Corrections and Charities.  This was meant to help refine many of the state’s institutions and the prison system, like the rest, had to form a Board of Managers.  Two years later a new prison was founded in St. Cloud.

In 1901 the State Board of Corrections and Charities was abolished and a new Board of Control was established.  It became the forerunner for the Department of Corrections since it oversaw all of the state’s prisons and the reform schools and controlled parole.  However, in 1931 the State Board of Parole became a separate department and in 1939 the Board of Control was abolished completely and its powers were divided between the Director of Public Institutions and the Department of Social Security.  With the rise in crimes being committed by persons not of age, the Youth Conservation Commission was created in 1948.  Minnesota was the second state form this kind of organization and they created some of the first detention centers.  Finally, with so many offices doing virtually the same thing the state decided to put all of the offices back together, creating the Department of Corrections in 1959.

Since the Formation of the Department

Around the time of the formation of the Minnesota Department of Corrections the prison system was already undergoing a lot of changes.  Security was getting tighter, especially after prison riots in 1960.  In the next few years some of the camps set up to help reform prisoners had to be closed after escape attempts.  In 1963, there was further development in helping juvenile and youthful offenders with the opening of the Minnesota Reception and Diagnostic Center.

In 1969, there was a new wave of support for helping to reform prisoners as community corrections facilities and a correctional halfway house were opened.  Over the next several years, new prisons were opened and several were expanded upon.  In 2009, the Department of Corrections celebrated their 50th anniversary with a major expansion that turned their Faribault prison into the largest in the state.