SHAKOPEE, Minn. - A prisoner is back in custody after escaping from the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Shakopee Monday night. The escape attempt is reigniting a longtime debate over whether a fence should surround the only women's prison in the state.
The Minnesota Department of Corrections says it's the only female facility in the country that houses medium level offenders and higher that doesn't have a fence.
Shakopee Mayor Brad Tabke has pushed the plan in the past, and again is calling the prison fence a critical priority.
When inmate Angel Lynn Benjamin, 24, escaped, only a hedge and street separated her from a Shakopee neighborhood and nearby elementary school. She's the eighth inmate to escape since 1995.
Shakopee police were alerted of the escape at 7 p.m. and took Benjamin into custody 23 minutes later. They found her hiding in a bush outside a home in the surrounding neighborhood.
On his blog, Tabke called the escape an unnecessary risk that must be corrected in the 2014 legislative session.
"This prison is regrettably located in a residential area and has no fence on it's perimeter," Tabke wrote in a post announcing the escape. "Today's escape dramatically underscores the need to build a fence around MCF-Shakopee."
Governor Dayton still supports an estimated $5.4 million dollar wrought iron structure that's designed to blend into the neighborhood. The bill to build a fence has failed in last legislative sessions. Tabke says the need grows with every year as prison houses more people.
"When this facility behind us was built in 1986 there were only 86 people that were in here, and today we have 653. 191 are people who have committed crimes against other people," said Tabke.
Representative Michael Beard, a Republican representing Shakopee, said the plan faded even with bipartisan support when compared with other spending priorities. He said because his constituents are divided both sides of the issue, he's been ambivalent to the fence in the past. Beard points out however; it would save labor costs because currently extra guards are needed to staff a facility without a fenced perimeter. He emphasizes he would support a fence that would aesthetically fit the neighborhood.
"It makes sense. Prison, fence they kind of go together don't they?" said Diego Delacruz, a neighbor. "In this day and age they are just as capable as anyone else honestly what is the difference? I know a murderer that is in there right now."
When neighbors weigh the risk, others worry the view would be an eyesore in a residential area.
"I don't think they need a fence of any kind, ornate or not. I think a line of trees looks more like Minnesota, coniferous or even hardwood trees, just a nice barrier all the way across. That would be beautiful," said Albie Breimhorst, another neighbor. "It's never been threatening to me at all. It's more like a college campus than a prison."
Benjamin was considered a medium offender for trying to escape during a visit to the hospital while in custody of Hennepin County jail.
The Department of Corrections (DOC) says the fence proposal will be on the table again at legislature next year. The department has documented 19 intrusions in the past five years and says 18 more escapes have been planned since 1995.