An update concerning overcrowding in Rush City Prison

In my last column, “Overcrowding in Rush City Prison creates a risk to the public” (MSR, Mar. 24, 2016), I wrote about the overcrowding and double bunking in a prison originally designed for single occupancy in each cell. I shared several examples of how the community and inmate safety is jeopardized by this practice. I also highlighted a civil rights complaint filed by Rush City inmate Tony Jackson.

A week after that column’s publication, Rush City’s prison’s double bunking and overcrowding possibly led to another potentially deadly altercation between inmates. On April 1, at roughly 7:30 am, inmates who worked the overnight shift returned to their cells. The cell doors were then secured by an electronic-looking mechanism controlled by a prison guard in the unit’s control center.

After a long night’s work, the inmates, believing that their cell doors were locked, went to sleep. Shortly thereafter, an inmate who worked the morning shift returned to the unit from his work assignment. He asked the guard to buzz his cell door open. Inmates are not allowed in a cell that they are not assigned to live in.

Yet, after entering his cell briefly, this inmate walked to the other side of the unit where only overnight workers live. He then successfully solicited a guard to open a cell that he didn’t live in. Two inmates who worked overnights were in that cell sleeping. When the unit control center guard buzzed the cell door open, the inmate rushed into the cell and attacked one of the sleeping inmates.

Two days later, as I write this article, the victimized inmate is in the hole, otherwise known as solitary confinement or segregation. The guard who made the attack possible is back in the unit control center regulating access to inmates’ cell doors once again. No termination, no suspension, no work duty reassignment, no accountability for Rush City prison staff. Yet, Rush City prison is punishing and holding the victim accountable.

It’s unclear if the guard was bribed or coerced into opening the cell door for the assault to occur. It seems more likely that, due do to the double bunking and overcrowding of inmates in Rush City prison, it may have been difficult for the guard to distinguish who lives in what cell.

Many of the altercations that occur in Rush City prison take place in a cell, where at least one of the inmates may not live in that cell. When a guard sees two inmates enter a cell in Rush City prison, it may not raise alarms since everyone is double bunked. In other prisons where there is single occupancy in cells, it’s possible that this would attract more attention from prison guards.

Another factor that adds to the danger of Rush City prison’s double bunking and overcrowding is the mixing of inmates serving life sentences (lifers), with inmates serving minor parole violations as short as 60-90 days. The inmate attacked was scheduled for release within two weeks of the assault.

Shortly after I wrote the previous column on this issue, the Federal District Court of Minnesota allowed Jackson’s complaint to proceed, but denied class-action status because Jackson isn’t represented by an attorney. Jackson attempted to contact Nekima Levy-Pounds, president of the NAACP, Minneapolis chapter. But for some unexplained reason, Rush City prison blocked access to the NAACP office number.

Through this article, Jackson hopes to attract the attention of an attorney willing to take a look at the case and offer representation in order to have the class-action status reinstated.

In the meantime, we inmates at Rush City prison, already sleeping lightly due to double bunking with a stranger, will sleep even lighter, if at all. At any moment, a prison guard could grant access to our cell for someone to rush in and attack us while we sleep.

Jeffrey Young welcomes reader responses to Jeffrey Young #213390, 7600 525th St., Rush City, MN 55069.