Crime, Law and Justice

Stillwater prison remains in lockdown amid protests of living conditions

Stone sign outside Stillwater prison.
Guard towers and fencing surrounds the Stillwater Correctional Facility in Stillwater.
John Minchillo | AP 2019

Tuesday marks the third day of protests for better living conditions at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Stillwater which remains in lockdown after people jailed at the facility held a peaceful action on Sunday afternoon. 

Around 100 incarcerated people refused to return to their cells before 3 p.m. on Sunday — instead sitting in a common area and playing cards — to decry reduced shower, phone and recreation time, as well as dangerously hot rooms and poor water quality. This amid near-record heat over Labor Day weekend and ongoing staffing shortages in Minnesota jails.  

The facility will remain on lockdown until the Department of Corrections reviews details of the incident and develops a plan for “the safe resumption of population movement,” according to spokesperson Andy Skoogman. 

“I don’t have a timeline, but I can tell you the wheels are in motion,” he said. "I can’t specifically answer what a safe resumption of population movement looks like until there are more discussions. But I would say when we are confident normal facility operations can most likely occur.”

There were no violent incidents on Sunday, according to prison officials. All but two people returned to their cells. Staff placed the two men in solitary confinement; Skoogman confirmed they remain in restrictive housing as of Tuesday afternoon. 

Dozens of family members and civil rights activists continued the Stillwater protest from outside the facility on Monday, with reports some incarcerated people there have fainted from heat without access to air conditioning and cold water. 

Tuesday, the supporters protested at the governor’s temporary residence at the University of Minnesota’s Eastcliff Mansion to press for urgent solutions. 

“Until we get this stuff fixed, we cannot just close our eyes and act like these things didn’t happen,” said organizer Marvina Haynes, whose brother is incarcerated in Stillwater. 

Haynes said Gov. Walz should step in to ensure fewer lockdowns and guarantee access to visitation rights, showers and clean water. She said an independent investigator should test water going into inmate cells. 

Attributing some conditions to staffing levels, however, Haynes and other advocates say the immediate priority should be reducing the prison population by transitioning people out. 

David Boehnke, an organizer with the Twin Cities Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, called the measure “the only viable solution on the table right now.” 

He estimates 1,400 incarcerated people could be eligible to live in alternative housing under the state’s Work Force Release Program, which allows low risk incarcerated people to work full-time or receive vocational training in community. 

He also wants to see the earlier implementation of the Minnesota Rehabilitation Reinvestment Act, which as of Aug. 1 allows for people to earn an early release from prison, but is not expected to be implemented in the near future.