Portion of Stillwater prison to remain closed after corrections officer's death

Minnesota Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy
Minnesota Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy talks to reporters last week following the assault and death of a guard at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater.
Tim Pugmire | MPR News

The portion of the Stillwater prison where an officer was killed last week will remain closed, the Minnesota Department of Corrections announced Friday, as officials take additional steps to improve safety and security.

DOC Commissioner Tom Roy said Friday that the area of the industry building where Officer Joe Gomm died, after allegedly being attacked by an inmate, will remain closed under the current administration.

The rest of the industry building — where inmates can work on skills such as welding and carpentry — will remain closed until the department can assess the safety of the entire area, Roy said at a news conference held the day after Gomm's funeral.

Roy said he recently met with Gov. Mark Dayton and detailed plans to enhance safety and security inside Minnesota's prisons.

Joseph Gomm
Corrections Officer Joseph Gomm, who was killed in an attack by an inmate at the Stillwater state prison on July 18, 2018.
Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Corrections

Among the changes, Roy said the DOC will be expanding WiFi access and cameras in the prisons.

"I am confident standing here today, and the words I used with the governor were — we have not been asleep at the wheel when it comes to safety," Roy said. "It is a daily concern for us, for our wardens and people in the community."

Roy said Friday that the number of corrections officers who have taken a leave of absence to deal with the death of their fellow officer is in the "double digits." Roy said three corrections officers have quit since Gomm was killed.

Roy said he will keep pushing the Minnesota Legislature to pass funding for 150 more staff members, a request that has been denied in the past.

"I think it will differ this year in that legislative interest, I think, is going to be more acute," he said. "Certain legislators have offered their attention to the staffing issue; the specifics of or what form that takes, they didn't indicate."

Stillwater prison
The Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater is seen in May 2014.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News 2014

The DOC provided numbers Friday showing the ratio of inmates to uniformed staff at state prisons. Stillwater's ratio was one staff member for every 4.8 inmates.

AFSCME Council 5, the union that oversees corrections officers in Minnesota, released a statement following Roy's press conference.

The union said state officials "have not communicated with us about the safety measures presented today nor given us an opportunity to work with them to find solutions.

"We have several policy issues that we will be demanding get resolved. We have dangerously low numbers of correctional officers, levels that are far worse than the statistics reported by DOC today. This is unacceptable. Officers are not given all the equipment they need to safely do their jobs, and that also must be addressed."

The union said it is seeking "bipartisan support, communication and collaboration from the department and all levels of state government to provide us with the adequate level of correctional officers, tools, resources and policies we need to do our job and to keep our institutions and the public safe."

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