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MPR’s Paul Gruchow interviews Phil Easton, the publisher of the Stillwater Gazette, about giving furloughs to inmates of Stillwater Prison.

This recording was made available through a grant from the National Historical Publications & Records Commission.


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SPEAKER 1: The new prison programs are so far out in left field, we're not ready for them. I doubt if we'll ever be ready for them. This business of five-day furloughs to unscreened inmates, they don't get the proper screening. We'll go back in situ a case, take a little excerpt out of an editorial by the Stillwater Gazette. We're going back here some weeks now.

And we read between the lines here. The latest act in what are becoming mirthlessly known in the valley as Fogle's follies happened Monday in Duluth. Police there charged that one of Stillwater's residents behind bars on a five-day vacation was putting it to good use by showing his prospective son-in-law the finer elements of robbery. They both wound up after a high speed chase and a 15-minute shootout captured in what had undoubtedly been a once quiet neighborhood. These are the things that we're death on.

And even though doctor Fogle says that these people, when they escape, don't stay in the county, they've got to be here for a short time in order to get out. And recently here, we had 10, within a period of two days, that did something that has never been done before in the history of this prison. That's sawing out, that's escaping from maximum security, the sawing the bars of the windows to escape, and go over a picketed fence, and drop down onto the street.

And now, 9 out of 10 of those are back in custody. But who pays the bill? Who gives them their day in court? I'm also going to say one other thing to you here. Washington County attorney John Johnson, at the last county board meeting, informed the board members he had submitted a claim to the Minnesota State Claims Commission for $18,111.88 for expenses the county has incurred in handling state prison problems. This is only from December 15, '67 to April 13, '71.

SPEAKER 2: Do you think there's some actual physical danger to residents of Washington County as a result of the policies being followed at the prison?

SPEAKER 1: Well, we'll let you form your own opinion on this, but we'll relate to you one incident that happened ahead of the one that I just related to you, a broomball game, where there were three or more people that were doing this broomball bit out in amongst the general public. The lights went out, the guards couldn't find them. They had kidnapped a boy, a young fellow, about 16, 17 years old, stole his car. Now, this is not exactly the way that we like society to operate. Absolutely, they're dangerous.

SPEAKER 2: What specific policies of Fogle's would you question? Which practices of the prison seem most unnecessary to you?

SPEAKER 1: Well, of course, now we're speaking as of today. And of course, the five-day furloughs have been discontinued. And the deal cage, which they call cage, that's C-A-G-E, is an extracurricular activity whereby women as well as men come in and visit. At this particular time when this episode happened, where there was about six of them that got out, they were having a ball, a dance, and so forth, right in the prison.

Well, I don't know who ever heard of this before. These ideas are so far out. They have access to street clothes there. You couldn't tell whether they are inmates or not. We've had occasions where they've left the minimal custody deal of farm, where they have appeared in Bayport. And nobody knows who they are. They go in and have a few drinks and go back to prison.

SPEAKER 2: Are you questioning, in general, the idea of prison reform? Are you just questioning some specific things that Dr. Fogle has instituted at the prison?

SPEAKER 1: We are seeing only one thing, only one legitimate request or one legitimate part of his reform program that we agree with. We agree that your first offenders, aged 17 through 21, or 18 through 21, whichever the case may be, for state prison, or Saint Cloud, or what have you, they should have separate facilities and not have to go into prison with the hardcore. Because we realize that after they've been there a few years, they're just as bad as the rest of them. And they have learned. They've gotten a tremendous education out of this thing. And of course it is not to the benefit of society, the education they got.

SPEAKER 2: What about hardcore criminals themselves, are there changes in the procedures of prisons that you would find acceptable?

SPEAKER 1: My honest belief is this, that the modern reform is not for them.

SPEAKER 2: You've written some generally favorable things about warden McManus. But McManus says he is fully supportive of Fogle's policies.

SPEAKER 1: You're going back to my editorial here where McManus speaks out. OK. And what is your question here?

SPEAKER 2: Well, my question is, how do those two things fit? Is McManus not sincere, do you think, in his endorsement of Fogle?

SPEAKER 1: I believe that, reading between the lines here, what Bruce really meant in our interview and in this editorial was that the correctional commission, the Department of Corrections headed up by the Commissioner of Corrections, who is Dr. Fogle, have run the prison for some time. In other words, he says that they are under orders from this particular office. But at the same token that he has-- by the same token that he has not been interfered with very much as far as management of the prison is concerned.

SPEAKER 2: Is this question of Fogle's activities in part a political question? Your newspaper has been rather strongly Republican. And the governor, of course, has been very supportive of Fogle.

SPEAKER 1: We are listed as an independent as far as political affiliation is concerned.

SPEAKER 2: Your editorial policy is pretty Republican.

SPEAKER 1: No, they're written from an independent, non-biased attitude. There is no political intent here whatsoever.

SPEAKER 2: Although it would tend to reflect on the governor politically.

SPEAKER 1: Certainly, because he appointed him. We think that he was poorly advised.

SPEAKER 2: Do you think that ought to be made a campaign issue in the next governor's race?

SPEAKER 1: I think it will be.


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