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Minnesota Prison Bans “No Touch” Rule

Back in 2011, the United States Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) performed an anonymous survey at the Minnesota Department of Corrections’ (MDOC) Shakopee women’s prison.

The survey’s results showed that Shakopee was among the worst prisons in the nation for sexual misconduct. Faced with that BJS data, warden Tracy Beltz took the action she considered necessary and appropriate to protect her charges from sexual assault, exploitation and misconduct.

She instituted a strict, zero tolerance, no-touching policy for all prisoners. This ban included such innocent gestures as handshakes, high fives and fist bumps. As a result, prisoners touching one another became disciplinary violations for any contact, even a handshake or pat on the back to comfort someone who has just returned from the chaplain’s office and having been told that a friend or family member has passed away.

When guards allege a disciplinary infraction, prisoners are routinely placed in administrative segregation until the outcome of the case is decided. And at Shakopee, as so often happens in prisons, many guards become overzealous and overstated, inflated and even provoked disciplinary case allegations.

For eight years, MDOC steadfastly denied any such policy existed. But concerted efforts and numerous Freedom of Information Act requests from the Minneapolis Star Tribune and American Civil Liberties Union found otherwise in MDOC’s handbooks and training manuals.

In June 2019, MDOC’s recently installed Commissioner Paul Schnell ordered new protocols on “appropriate touch’” to be drafted and implemented at Shakopee. “It wasn’t a healthy policy,” he said. “Over time, those things have become antiquated.”

With the new protocols, handshakes, high fives and fist bumps are approved touches, but hugs are still not allowed. Meanwhile, Beltz was transferred as warden to Faribault prison in August 2019.