Minnesota Correctional Facility – Oak Park Heights

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Minnesota Correctional Facility – Oak Park Heights (MCF-OPH)
Oak Park Heights Orthoimagery.PNG
Location Oak Park Heights, Minnesota
Coordinates 45°01′30″N 92°48′11″W / 45.025°N 92.803°W / 45.025; -92.803
Status Operational
Security class Level 5 "Maximum"
Capacity 482[1]
Population 459 (as of March 21, 2015)
Opened 1982
Managed by Minnesota Department of Corrections
Director Michelle Smith, Warden

Minnesota Correctional Facility – Oak Park Heights (MCF-OPH) is Minnesota’s only Level Five maximum security prison. The facility is located near the cities of Bayport and Stillwater. The facility is designed and employed with trained security officers to handle not only Minnesota’s high risk inmates but other states' as well.[2] They also have the largest contract to house federal inmates with serious, violent histories. This contract has brought the state millions of dollars over the years.[citation needed] Oak Park Heights is considered to be one of the safest prisons in the United States. The prison has never had an escape, and only one homicide.[3]


Frank Wood was the warden of Stillwater prison when he helped come up with the plan for Oak Park Heights in 1982. He was also the first warden of the prison from 1982 until 1996 when he retired. His deputy James Bruton became the warden from 1996 until 2001. Constructed in 1981 and opened in 1982 at a cost of $31.5 million, Oak Park Heights is home to approximately 481 offenders. According to the Minnesota Department of Corrections, the prison's nine complexes are “specialized uniquely to help facilitate a safe, secure, and humane environment for the offenders incarcerated as well as the staff who work at Oak Park Heights”.

Constructed in 1981, MCF-OPH is the state's only Level Five (Maximum) Custody Level prison for men, with an inmate population just under 450. The facility is home to some of the state's most violent offenders, as well as many out-of-state commits and a few federal inmates.


The prison is architecturally designed into the side of a hill to accommodate 481 offenders on a 160-acre (0.65 km2) site, which is connected by two corridors on separate levels. One of the Corridors is used only for the staff, while the other corridor is used primarily for offenders and staff traffic, while the other 60 acres of this site are securely fenced in, with a large courtyard and baseball field in the center. Inmate cells measure seven by ten feet. Each cell contains a bed, table, toilet, and sink. The bed is a cement slab topped by a thin mattress. The toilet and sink are made of steel so they can’t be broken. Each cell also has one rectangular window that’s tall and thin. It is too narrow to escape through if the inmate could break the reinforced glass, and tests have proven it would take approximately twelve thousand hacksaw blades to cut through the steel bars of the prison. Not only does the prison provide a courtyard with a baseball field, but also includes an administration building, a religious resource room, gymnasium, security control center, staffed training fitness area, warehouses, a loading dock, and indoor firing range.

The prison is composed of nine self-sustaining living units, referred to as complexes. The first six complexes each house 52 offenders and include shower facilities and a common area used for recreation and meals. Offenders in these complexes range from those serving segregation time, to those who are in education toward a GED, or working full-time in the facility as cooks, janitors, painters, or workers in the institution's industry units. MCF-OPH is home to the Minnesota Department of Corrections Commissary program. Inmates who qualify for these work programs are employed to process and package commissary orders from the other state correctional facilities.

Two of the three remaining complexes house the Mental Health Unit (MHU) and the Transitional Care Unit (TCU). The MHU and TCU both handle inmates from the entire Minnesota DOC who require the unique services of those units. The TCU serves inmates who need intensive nursing care, such as post surgical care, and also serves as a hospice. The MHU works with individuals who are in a mental health crisis or individuals who have been civilly committed as mentally ill in addition to their criminal commitment.

The ninth unit, completed in 2001, is the state's Administrative Control Unit. The ACU is sometimes referred to as "Super-Seg" and houses the most violent offenders in an environment nearly completely free of physical contact with staff. Many of the offenders in the ACU have attempted to assault prison staff, or have engaged in a deadly assault on another inmate. Each cell is a self-contained living unit that includes sink, toilet, and shower. Each cell is accessed through two sets of doors, creating a sally port for each cell. Offenders are typically given access to an exercise room that is open to outside air for one hour each day.

The MCF-OPH facility, together with the H Unit of Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Oklahoma, was featured in a one hour TV documentary titled "Maximum Security Prisons", produced by Alan Hall (Beyond Productions) for the "On the Inside" series of the Discovery Channel. National Geographic has also produced an episode of America's Hardest Prisons on the Oak Park Heights Facility.


Security in each complex is controlled from a two story security glassed in "bubble" that allows officers to open and close doors throughout the unit on both cell blocks and in the programming space on the level above the cell blocks. While the electronic controls in the bubble were state of the art in 1982, they were due to be replaced in 2010 with modern computer controlled updates. Another system that was to be updated in 2010 is the vibration sensors on the exterior fence. The original fence used high tech vibration sensing technology from Israel that is no longer manufactured or supported.

Because each complex is sectioned off from the rest of the prison by a bubble controlled sally port, only small numbers of offenders can enter the hallway connecting the complexes at any one time. The hallway itself has large steel "sliders" that can quickly close off each section of hallway should a complex need to be isolated.

The "yard" is fully within the walls of the prison, and armed officers patrol the top of the walls whenever offenders are out. Outside of the prison building is a field surrounded by a double set of fences topped with razor wire. No offender has ever made it outside the walls.


  1. ^ "Performance Report, Fiscal Year 2010" (PDF). Minnesota Department of Corrections. Retrieved 2012-06-16. 
  2. ^ Minnesota Department of Corrections website
  3. ^ Inmate Strangled, Killed inside Oak Park Heights Prison, CBS Local. Retrieved 2013-12-03

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 45°01′30″N 92°48′08″W / 45.025047°N 92.8022°W / 45.025047; -92.8022