The Minnesota Correctional Facility in Rush City welcomed new warden Vicki Janssen July 1, but this is not her first job working at the Rush City prison.
“I taught for 13 years at North Branch High School and spent three years in two other school districts in administration,” Janssen said. “After 16 years in education, I was a budget cut. I started here at the Rush City prison in 2007 as the education director, and that was my first experience in corrections. I basically ran the school that’s inside the prison, and I was here in that role for four years.”
Janssen was then promoted to associate warden at the Moose Lake Correctional Facility in 2011, then to the St. Could Correctional Facility and worked there for approximately 14 months as associate warden.
“I did a lateral transfer from St. Cloud to Lino Lakes in 2013 as an associate warden and that got me closer to home,” Janssen said. “I was in that role for about a year and a half and then I got promoted to warden at Lino Lakes in March of 2015 until I became the warden here at Rush City.”
According to Janssen, one of the biggest challenges at Rush City is staffing, especially correctional officers.
“That is the number one challenge because we are very lean in our staffing,” Janssen said. “People that work at the Rush City prison come and do a good job. We’re the front line, so to speak, of public safety. It’s important because these are high custody offenders. So, when they come here, it’s not our job to punish the offender, our job is to have a safe and secure environment for offenders to do their time. People who come to work in corrections really are committed to doing a good job.”
The Rush City Correctional Facility houses approximately 1,000 male inmates and is a level 4 prison. The only prison in the state that has a higher level (5) is the correctional facility in Oak Park Heights. The prison has a library and offers educational programs for men to earn their high school diploma, a GED diploma, with an industrial program, which, according to Janssen, is the largest employer at the Rush City Correctional Facility.
Ryan Heiniemi is Rush City Correctional Facility’s heavy equipment operator instructor with whom inmates learn how to handle heavy equipment by using simulators that assess the technique, amount of fuel, safety violations and other aspects related to using an excavator, front end loader and a bulldozer.
“They are working on excavators and Ryan has 40,000 hours of logged time on the equipment,” Educational Director Todd Lubben said. “He’s really turned out to be a good teacher.”
Lubben said the students work at the heavy equipment operations six hours a day for approximately four months and inmates can receive a National Center for Construction Education and Research certificate when the course is completed. Also, inmates receive an Occupational Safety and Health Administration 10 safety certificate, where students have acquired 10 hours of safety training, to receive a 1926 construction card, and inmates will have the opportunity to receive forklift certification.
“We have career navigators that work with the career tech individuals and they go to community meetings and pay attention to companies who are hiring. Mostly, they sit down with them (inmates) and help them make a career plan,” Lubben said. “The goal is to get them the certificates so when they get out, they can get their foot in the door. Once their foot’s in the door, it’s up to them to keep the job.”
The Rush City facility offers a painting and decorating program, which includes inmates completing projects of airless spray, air spray with finishing, dry wall and painting projects. After a 16-week segment, the inmates earn a certificate from Century College.
According to Janssen, an interesting fact about the Rush City Correctional Facility is that all Minnesota license plates are made at the Rush City prison.
Janssen said they have had success with rehabilitation of offenders, but it does vary.
“I believe a person will change when they recognize what they need to do. We can lead a horse to water, but can’t force them to drink,” she said. “There’s always a few who are really challenging. There are always a few who should never get out because what they did was so horrific,” Janssen said. “But in this state, 95 percent of the people in prison are coming back out into the community. My message to the offender population when I talk to them is don’t let what got you here define who are. They need to own it and figure it out.”