Minnesota jail locked down due to heatwave after about 100 inmates ‘refused’ to return to their cells


A Minnesota jail was placed under an emergency lockdown after about 100 inmates in a unit who had been exposed to dangerously high temperatures refused to return to their cells on Sunday, in what a former inmate there described as an act of “self-preservation.”

The situation is “currently stable” and the reason why inmates “refuse to return to their cells remains unclear,” a Department of Corrections spokesman said.

But advocates outside Stillwater Prison, some of whom have family members in prison, said inmates were fed up with the excessive heat, limited access to showers and ice, and unsafe drinking water.

They said inmates have been under intermittent lockdown since Friday due to staffing issues, meaning they are being held in their cells, which reportedly lack air conditioning. The prison is located in Bayport, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of Minneapolis, where an afternoon heat warning was in place for temperatures approaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.7 degrees Celsius).

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

“This morning they decided they were not going to lock up their cells,” said David Boehnke of the Twin Cities Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, adding that lockdowns have been on and off for the past two months.

Executive director of the union representing Stillwater correctional officers, Bart Andersen, said in a statement that the incident was “endemic and highlights the truth behind the MN Department of Corrections’ chronic understaffing operations.”

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 occupant action was a spontaneous response to unsafe conditions.

“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.”

Intense heat waves across the country have led to this increased concern for prison inmates, particularly those in poorly ventilated or air-conditioned facilities.

Two officers from Stillwater Correctional Facility were reportedly in a secure controlled area and in contact with facility staff. No injuries were reported.

The state Department of Corrections said members of a crisis negotiation team had been activated and the Special Operations Response Team had also been 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.”

Related Articles

Back to top button