BAYPORT, MN- A Minnesota correctional facility was put on emergency lockdown after approximately 100 prisoners refused to return to their cells on Sunday due to dangerously high temperatures. The inmates, all housed in one unit, were reportedly protesting against the excessive heat, limited access to showers and ice, and unclean drinking water. The Department of Corrections has stated that the situation is now stable, but the reasons behind the inmates’ refusal to return to their cells remain uncertain.
Advocates, including family members of the inmates, gathered outside the Stillwater prison to voice concerns about the conditions inside the facility. They reported that the inmates have been subjected to intermittent lockdowns since Friday due to staffing issues, which meant they were confined to their cells that allegedly lacked air conditioning.
The Stillwater prison is located in Bayport, approximately 25 miles east of Minneapolis, which was under a heat advisory on Sunday afternoon with temperatures nearing 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Marvina Haynes, from Minnesota Wrongfully Convicted Judicial Reform, whose brother is an inmate at Stillwater, said her organization received calls from inmates inside the prison starting at 6:30 a.m.
David Boehnke, from Twin Cities Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, said the inmates decided not to return to their cells on Sunday morning. He added that there have been on-and-off lockdowns for the past two months. Bart Andersen, the executive director of the union representing Stillwater’s correctional officers, said the incident is indicative of the chronic understaffing at the MN Department of Corrections, which leads to restrictions on program and recreation time due to insufficient security staff.
Haynes, Boehnke, and Cathy Stroud Caldwell all agreed that the inmates’ actions were a spontaneous response to unsafe conditions. Haynes said the inmates didn’t have time to organize and plan, they simply refused to return to their hot cells without drinking water and the ability to shower.
The recent heatwaves across the country have raised concerns for prison populations, particularly those in facilities without proper ventilation or air conditioning. Two officers at the Stillwater correctional facility were reported to be safe in a secure control area and in contact with facility staff. No injuries were reported.
The state Department of Corrections activated a crisis negotiation team and deployed the Special Operations Response Team as a precautionary measure. The facility, built in 1914, houses about 1,200 inmates. Kevin Reese, founder of a criminal justice organization called Until We Are All Free, is a former inmate at Stillwater. He described the prison as a “pizza oven” in the summers.