Minnesota prison reaches resolution for inmates who refused to return to their cells during heatwave

A Minnesota jail “resolved without incident” a situation involving about 100 inmates in a housing unit who refused to return to their cells on Sunday, in what one former inmate described as an “act of self-preservation” given the dangerously high temperatures in the area .

The situation had been “calm, peaceful and stable throughout the day,” a corrections ministry spokesman said in a statement, adding that “those detained in the unit have expressed their dissatisfaction” because the understaffed facility was the time of the prison had to confine inmates outside of their cells.

But advocates outside Stillwater prison, some of whom have family members inside, said inmates were fed up with the excessive heat, lack of air conditioning and limited access to showers and ice during lockdowns over the past two months.

The jail is in Bayport, about 25 miles east of Minneapolis, where an afternoon heat warning was in effect for temperatures nearing 100 degrees.

A fleet of emergency vehicles park in front of the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater prison on September 3, 2023 in Bayport, Minnesota.
A fleet of emergency vehicles park in front of the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater prison on September 3, 2023 in Bayport, Minnesota.

“My organization started receiving calls from 6:30 a.m. from inmates who are actually inside,” said Marvina Haynes of Minnesota Wrongfully Convicted Judicial Reform, whose brother is a Stillwater inmate.

“This morning they decided that they would not lock up their cells,” said David Boehnke of the Organizing Committee of the Twin Cities Incarcerated Workers.

The department confirmed that inmates are on lockdown status due to the bank holiday weekend, meaning they are being held in their cells and have “restricted access throughout the facility, including time out of cells to shower, use the phone and relax.” . The facility remains under lockdown and all inmates have returned to their cells.

Executive director of the union representing Stillwater Correctional Officers, Bart Andersen, said in a statement that the incident was “endemic and brings to light the truth behind the chronically understaffed Minnesota Correctional Agency’s operation.”

Andersen said such conditions would upset inmates because program and free time would be restricted “when there aren’t enough security personnel to protect the facility.”

Haynes, Boehnke and Cathy Stroud Caldwell said the inmate action was a spontaneous response to unsafe conditions, including access to clean drinking water, which was reportedly brown in color.

The ministry said these claims “about a lack of clean water at the facility are manifestly false”.

“They didn’t have time to organize and plan,” Haynes said. “It was just… we’re not going back to this hot cell with no potable water and no way to shower.”

Haynes said they hope to meet with officials “to talk about the conditions inmates are living in” and “solutions for the future.”

Intense heat waves across the country have raised concerns for inmates, particularly those in poorly ventilated or air-conditioned facilities.

Two correctional officers have remained in a secure control area and in contact with facility staff since the emergency lockdown status was initiated at 8am

According to the correctional authority, there were no injuries.

Members of a crisis negotiation team and the Special Operations Response Team were deployed “out of great caution”.

In total, about 1,200 inmates are at the facility southeast of Stillwater in Bayport, according to department records.

It was built in 1914.

Kevin Reese, founder of criminal justice organization Until We Are All Free, described Stillwater as a “pizza oven” over the summer.

He was imprisoned there in the summer months of 2006 to 2009.

“It’s a 100-year-old building with no air conditioning and no central air conditioning,” Reese said. “The walls are actually sweating.”


JACLYN DIAZ is a USTimeToday U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. JACLYN DIAZ joined USTimeToday in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing diza@ustimetoday.com.

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