Stillwater Prison remains on lockdown after about 100 inmates refused to re-enter cells for 7 hours Sunday

STILLWATER, Minn. — The Minnesota Department of Corrections says an emergency situation at Minnesota Correctional Facility - Stillwater has been resolved after roughly 100 inmates in one living unit refused to return to their cells Sunday morning, but inmates may remain on lockdown through Tuesday.

Extra police, firefighters, and other emergency teams rushed to the prison after the DOC put it on emergency lockdown at about 8 a.m. The DOC reports that all staff had been removed from the common areas of the unit that had been taken over, and two correctional officers remained in the unit's secure control area, staying "in constant communication with facility command personnel during the incident."

DOC spokesperson Andy Skoogman says no one was hurt, and "the situation was calm, peaceful and stable throughout the day." Earlier Sunday, Skoogman said members of the Crisis Negotiation Team were activated and, "out of an abundance of caution," they had also activated the DOC's Special Operations Response Team (SORT).

DOC Commissioner Paul Schnell clarified in a press conference late Sunday afternoon that deployment of the negotiation team is standard protocol, and the SORT team was called in "out of abundance of caution," and they never entered the unit.

"The majority of the time the incarcerated men who did not return to their cells were at tables that are in the commons area playing cards, talking with one another. There was never any type of violence throughout the incident at all," Schnell said.

He says the majority of inmates in that unit, which is between 220-250 men, had returned to their cells when originally ordered.

Schnell says the situation ended at about 3 p.m., when only two inmates were left refusing to go back to their cells. He says those inmates were brought to a segregated unit, and will go through a disciplinary process.

 / Credit: WCCO

Skoogman blamed the unrest in part on inmates' frustration with the move to change cell release schedules during Labor Day weekend, which limited the inmates' access to phones, recreation and showers — which Skoogman says is due to "staffing challenges." He also refuted the claim that inmates were lacking access to clean water.

Schnell added that inmates are usually given several hours a day during the weekend for recreation, but the holiday-related staff shortage dropped that amount of time to just a single hour.

The DOC says overall, free time has been cut down by more than half for inmates amid the current staffing issues.

"The more staff we have, the more we can open up programming, which is exactly what the concerns of incarcerated people are," Schnell said.

The DOC says the prison is short 50 officers. Staffing is both a short- and long-term concern, with the corrections officers union saying "chronic understaffing leads to upset offenders due to the need to restrict ... recreation time."

Schnell also says the 120-year-old facility is not climate controlled, and its windows "have many challenges." He says the DOC is doing studies to figure out how to update the facility, and he expects that a bonding request will eventually be submitted to the Minnesota Legislature.

Schnell also the DOC is actively working to recruit more correctional officers and staff, and there are active union contract negotiations that will likely lead to increased compensation.

It was a day of uncertainty for Marvina Haynes, who is unable to communicate with her brother, Marvin.

"It's been very emotional, very terrifying," Haynes said.

She says the men were protesting their movement being restricted, limiting their access to clean drinking water in the hot prison. She says the conditions inside have to improve.

"The jail told us that everything ended peacefully, but we're not sure of that because we still haven't had the opportunity to speak with anyone from the prison," she said.

In a statement Sunday afternoon, AFSCME Council 5, which represents Minnesota correctional officers, said that understaffing was to blame for the incident.

"Today's incident at MCF-Stillwater is endemic and highlights the truth behind the operations of the MN Department of Corrections with chronic understaffing leading to upset offenders due to the need to restrict programming and/or recreation time when there are not enough security staff to protect the facility. Our union believes to our core that our correctional facilities cannot have transformational offender programming without sufficient facility security, we can and must have both."

In total, about 1,200 inmates are at the facility just southeast of Stillwater, according to department records.

Back in 2018, the facility was the site of an officer's murder at the hands of an inmate. Joseph Gomm, 45, was beaten to death with a hammer by Edward Johnson.

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