Minnesota

Office of the Ombuds for Corrections (OBFC)

Budget

$659,000 (FY 2022)

Staffing

5 staff members

  • OBFC staff includes the Ombuds and four Assistant Ombuds

State Prison Profile

Minnesota has 11 state prison facilities subject to Office of the Ombuds for Corrections (OBFC) oversight and incarcerates approximately 7,500 people in state prisons. The state prison system is run by the Minnesota Department of Corrections (MNDOC). OBFC also has jurisdiction over systemic complaints for local jails.

Authority

MN Statute Chapter 241.90-241.95

  • Structure: OBFC is an independent agency. The Ombuds is appointed by the Governor.
  • Authorized Activities: OBFC can receive and investigate complaints about any MNDOC facility or staff. The OBFC is tasked with defining a process to intake complaints, perform investigations, and report findings and recommendations. Within this mandate, OBFC can also informally facilitate resolutions and provide education.
  • Information and Facility Access: OBFC staff can enter and inspect any facility or premises under MNDOC control at any time, but generally give advance notice. The OBFC must be given access to MNDOC records, documents, and information needed to complete their investigation.
  • Privacy: All correspondence between incarcerated people and the OBFC is privileged and cannot be opened by correctional staff. The names of individuals who file complaints and their MNDOC ID number can be accessed with a public records request but cannot be tied to a specific complaint. 

Activities

OBFC investigates complaints about MNDOC staff and facilities. At its discretion, OBFC can also investigate apparent systemic issues in MNDOC facilities.

  • Complaints Investigation: OBFC only investigates complaints after people who are incarcerated have pursued the MNDOC grievance process, unless there is a reason why they cannot pursue the process. Complaints are filed via mail using OBFC’s official form, though OBFC set up an email system for COVID-related complaints. Many complaints made to the OBFC are resolved by providing information or resources. Full complaint investigations are used to both verify immediate complaints and make recommendations for resolution, and to understand potential systemic issues. In 2021, OBFC handled roughly 440 complaints, conducting “deeper” investigations in 90 of those cases. Roughly 80% of complaints handled by OBFC were from MNDOC facilities.  
  • Systemic Issues and Policy Recommendations: OBFC identifies widespread and serious issues in both statewide and local correctional facilities. OBFC staff investigate these systemic problems to identify underlying issues and make recommendations for changes to policies or practices. In 2021, OBFC systemic investigations included MNDOC’s property intake processes, grievance procedures, and random drug testing program. 

Reports

Annual reports provided to the governor and the Minnesota Legislature; Reports published on individual investigations and systemic issues; all publicly available here.

Organizational History

The Minnesota Ombudsman for Corrections was first established in 1972 by the Governor of Minnesota, and then was codified by the Legislature in 1973. Minnesota was the first state to establish an ombudsman specifically for corrections and give the office independent authority. The office was eliminated by the Legislature in 2003. In 2019, the Legislature re-established the office. The re-established office began accepting complaints on September 21, 2020. 

Other Relevant Entities

The MNDOC Jail Inspection and Enforcement Unit (JIEU) is responsible for oversight of Minnesota jails. Per MN Statute 241.93, OBFC must coordinate its local jail oversight with the JIEU to ensure that they do not duplicate work. OBFC and the JIEU have an MOU to split authority, with JIEU handling “compliance complaints” and OBFC investigating systemic issues.