The Minnesota Department of Corrections says an emergency situation at a state prison has been resolved after roughly 100 inmates in one living unit refused to return to their cells Sunday morning. Inmates, however, could remain on lockdown through Tuesday.
Police, firefighters and other emergency teams rushed to the Stillwater prison after it was placed on emergency lockdown at about 8 a.m. local time, the department said.
The prison is located in the city of Bayport, about 25 miles east of Minneapolis.
All staff were removed from the common areas of the unit that was taken over, and two correctional officers remained in the unit’s secure control area, staying “in constant communication with facility command personnel during the incident.”
Department spokesperson Andy Skoogman said no one was hurt, and “the situation was calm, peaceful and stable throughout the day.”
“The majority of the time the incarcerated men who did not return to their cells were at tables that are in the commons area playing cards, talking with one another. There was never any type of violence throughout the incident at all,” Paul Schnell, Department of Corrections commissioner, said in a Sunday afternoon news conference.
The majority of inmates in the unit, which is between 220 and 250 men, had returned to their cells when originally ordered, Schnell alleged.
He said the situation ended at about 3 p.m., when only two inmates were left refusing to go back to their cells. The two were brought to a segregated unit, and will go through a disciplinary process.
Skoogman blamed the unrest, in part, on inmates’ frustration with a decision to change cell release schedules during Labor Day weekend, which limited the inmates’ access to phones, recreation and showers. Skoogman said that change was due to “staffing challenges.” He also refuted a claim that inmates lacked access to clean water.
Inmates are usually given several hours a day during the weekend for recreation, Schnell said, but the holiday-related staff shortage dropped that amount of time to just a single hour. Overall, free time has been cut down by more than half for inmates amid the current staffing issues, he added, disclosing that the prison is short about 50 officers.
“The more staff we have, the more we can open up programming, which is exactly what the concerns of incarcerated people are,” Schnell said.
In a statement Sunday afternoon, AFSCME Council 5, which represents Minnesota correctional officers, said that understaffing was to blame for the incident.
Schnell said the 120-year-old facility is not climate controlled and its windows “have many challenges.” He added that the department is doing studies to determine how to update the facility, and he expects that a bonding request will eventually be submitted to the Minnesota Legislature.
In total, about 1,200 inmates are at the facility just southeast of Stillwater, according to department records.
“Grateful the incident at Stillwater Prison has been resolved and no one was injured,” Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz posted on social media.
It was a day of uncertainty for Marvina Haynes, who was unable to communicate with her brother, Marvin.
“It’s been very emotional, very terrifying,” Haynes said.
She alleged the men were protesting their movement being restricted. She also said their access to clean drinking water in the hot prison has been limited.
“The jail told us that everything ended peacefully, but we’re not sure of that because we still haven’t had the opportunity to speak with anyone from the prison,” she said.
In 2018, the facility was the site of. Officer Joseph Gomm was beaten to death with a hammer by inmate Edward Johnson.