An emergency lockdown has been initiated at Minnesota’s Stillwater prison due to approximately 100 inmates in one housing unit refusing to return to their cells on Sunday.
The act came as the region deals with a heat wave and inmates were reportedly dealing with dangerously high temperatures in the prison, located in Bayport, just east of Minneapolis.
As afternoon heat advisories warned of temperatures around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, one former inmate called their refusal an act of “self-preservation.”
Some family members of the prisoners, as well as other advocates, claim those inside are struggling with excessive heat, unclean drinking water and limited access to showers and ice.
But the situation was described as “currently stable” by a Department of Corrections spokesperson, who said the reason why the prisoners were refusing was “unclear.”
Advocate groups maintain that the prisoners’ actions were not premeditated and came in response to unsafe conditions in their cells.
“My organization got calls from inmates who are actually inside” starting at 6:30 a.m., said Marvina Haynes of Minnesota Wrongfully Convicted Judicial Reform, who has a brother incarcerated at Stillwater.
One of the issues contributing to the frustration of the inmates is significant understaffing in the prisons, according to Bart Andersen, who serves as executive director of the union representing Stillwater’s correctional officers.
The staffing shortages have reportedly led to intermittent lockdowns at the prison in past days, causing inmates to be kept in cells that allegedly don’t have air conditioning.
In response to the emergency lockdown Sunday, the state Department of Corrections activated their crisis negotiation team and sent a Special Operations Response Team to the area.
Around 1,200 inmates currently reside in the Stillwater prison, which has been described as a “pizza oven” in the summers by Kevin Reese, the founder of the criminal justice organization Until We Are All Free.
With News Wire Services