Minnesota prisoners protest conditions

By Gabby Prosser
October 23, 2023

ST. PAUL, Minn. — “They should shut it down if they can’t handle it,” Ondella Thomas told some 30 protesters and media gathered outside the governor’s house here Sept. 16. They were drawing attention to protests by over 100 prisoners against conditions in the B-East unit of Minnesota Correctional Facility in Stillwater.

On Sept. 3 the prisoners had refused to return to their cells for more than six hours, protesting the extended period they were locked down in their cells, lack of air conditioning in extreme heat, and lack of clean drinking water. The Department of Corrections says they’re confined because of staff shortages.

Under the pressure of public attention, prison officials said they’ve ordered over 50,000 bottles of water for inmates to drink. Prison officials admit there was no violence during their protest.

After returning to their cells, most of the prisoners were kept locked down for more than a day, unable to bathe or contact friends and relatives. The seven men the Department of Corrections says organized the action remain in “restrictive housing.”

Many at the Sept. 16 protest called for “low risk” inmates to be transferred to outside housing and be allowed to work or take vocational training under the state’s Work Force Release Program. They also raised closing the Stillwater facility, noting that would solve the staffing shortage.