Three months into her new job at Minnesota Correctional Facility-Faribault, Warden Tracy Beltz is working to increase staffing, develop a strategic plan and simply acclimate herself to a facility much larger than the one she left more than a decade ago.
Beltz brings more than 25 years of experience in the Minnesota State Correctional System to her new job heading the state’s largest correctional facility. That experience may be part of the reason why the Department of Corrections shifted her to MCF-Faribault earlier this year.
Beltz graduated from Minnesota State University, Mankato with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology and a master’s in corrections. She began her career with the correctional system in 1993, when she was hired as a security counselor at what was then known as the St. Peter Security Hospital.
She moved to MCF-Faribault in 1999, where she quickly earned a series of promotions, eventually becoming associate warden of operations. She was then hired to serve as warden at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Shakopee. During her tenure at the state’s only women’s prison, Beltz was tasked first and foremost with keeping both staff and inmates safe. The Shakopee prison includes more than 500 women, around 100 who are in jail for homicide.
In contrast, Faribault’s facility houses low- and medium-security prisoners. That’s helped Faribault’s prison to insulate itself somewhat from the epidemic inmate violence, although inmate violence has still increased markedly over the last few years.
Even though prisoners at Faribault’s correctional facility are seen as a lower security risk, Beltz said that her top priority as warden will still be to ensure that employees and prisoners alike feel safe in the facility.
“You have to make sure that safety and security comes first,” she said. “That’s foundational. Once you’ve achieved that, you can focus on programming.”
In order to increase safety, Department of Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell has pushed hard for increased staffing. Across the state, roughly 2,000 correctional officers watch over more than 9,000 inmates spread between 10 facilities throughout Minnesota.
Earlier this year, the state Legislature approved funding that will enable the DOC to hire 78 new correctional officers. Many of those officers will be devoted to Faribault, which is seen as a particularly “high need” facility due to its large inmate population.
Traditionally, those interested in becoming correctional officers had to start the process at the agency’s headquarters in St. Paul. In order to expedite hiring in a tight labor market, correctional facilities have begun hosting onsite hiring events.
MCF-Faribault will host its own events Jan. 6 and 7. Beltz said that those interested in corrections should stop by, even if they don’t fit the traditional stereotype of a correctional officer.
“What we’ve found is that being a correctional officer isn’t about size or gender or race,” she said. “It’s about communications skills. Those who are able to communicate well with people do the best.”
Beltz also has significant experience in providing programming for prisoners, much of it accumulated during her earlier tenure in Faribault. During that time, she served in positions such as corrections program director and chemical health supervisor.
She’s likely going to be asked to tap into that experience quite a bit, Schnell’s determined vision. A former police chief in Hastings, Maplewood and Inver Grove Heights, Schnell, who took over as DOC commissioner in January, has called for an expansion of educational programming to help reduce the rate of recidivism.
Faribault’s correctional facility isn’t just the state’s largest, it offers by far the most educational opportunities of any state correctional facility, with a wealth of both general education and post-secondary options.
Along with Education Secretary Mary Cathryn Ricker, Schnell toured the facility in March and praised the opportunities those programs provide.
“These programs change the trajectory of families,” Schnell said. “These men will go home and talk about the value of the diploma they received.
As Schnell’s office works to put together a comprehensive plan to address challenges in the prison system, Beltz is preparing for major changes. Already she’s held strategic planning meetings with senior staff to discuss how the facility can improve.
Though the job may come with many challenges, Beltz said she looks forward to working with employees and partners in the community to address them. She said that her commitment to helping prisoners improve their lives is what drives her work.
“It’s about believing in our mission, wanting to improve lives,” she said. “And thankfully, we’ve got a phenomenal group of employees who have been so committed to helping us to fulfill that mission.”