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No more 'no touch' at Shakopee prison

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The Minnesota Department of Corrections is ending the no-touch policy that has kept people held at the Shakopee women's prison from having any physical interactions, even something as harmless as a high-five. The Department has long denied that the policy, which was meant to prevent inappropriate sexual conduct, existed. 

"It wasn't a healthy policy," DOC Commissioner Paul Schnell told the Star Tribune. "Over time, those things have become antiquated."

Naomi Gaines-Young had it better than some women at Shakopee because two of her children participated in special programs that meant she could have physical contact with them. 

Still, she remembers when a friend's father died while they were incarcerated and she couldn't even give her a hug. If she had, she said, "we would have gotten written up for a discipline case."

Gaines-Young, who was incarcerated for more than a decade, said the policy had a lasting effect on her, even though she had more physical contact than many of her fellow prisoners. 

"I didn't know I had been that deeply affected by it," she said, "until I left prison and someone reached out to hug me and I drew back not realizing that I could touch now."

Gaines-Young has been out of prison for a little more than three years now, and she said she's still getting used to it. 

"It was a transitioning process to even accept human touch, let alone give it."

Tonja Honsey, a founder of We Rise!, a group of formerly incarcerated women pushing for change, worked to get the policy removed. 

"It's a first step to beginning to heal trauma [from the no-touch policy], and to make these prisons more trauma-informed and responsive," Honsey said. "This is not only going to heal women who are there now," but also comfort women who, like herself and Gaines-Young, are still affected by it years after they were released. 

Honsey's primary concern now is to make sure the DOC finds ways to make sure the change is implemented fairly.