The Minnesota Department of Corrections (MnDOC) plans to commission further testing of water at the Stillwater prison and is issuing bottled water to prisoners in light of recent complaints during the standoff over water quality at the prison, an ongoing issue with inmates for years.
In a press release issued on Saturday evening, September 9, MnDOC stated it plans to commission a new round of water testing by the Minnesota Department of Health and a third-party lab this coming week to determine what sediments are in the water supply. That testing includes water that inmates use in their prison cells. Until the testing is complete, MnDOC plans to issue prisoners seven bottles of water per day.
Although organizations and Black-owned water suppliers have offered to donate bottled water to Stillwater inmates, the DOC is refusing the offer for now. “We appreciate the offer, but it’s more efficient for us to secure it ourselves,” said spokesperson Andy Skoogman.
Nonetheless, the news is welcome for activists and family members of those incarcerated at Stillwater, who have described the prison living conditions as inhuman.
“People say, ‘Do the crime, do the time.’ But it would behoove you to actually inform [the Department of Corrections] that [doing] the time doesn’t involve being treated like an animal, or being treated like you’re at the Como Zoo,” said activist Toussiant Morrison. The press conference convened in front of a building that houses the offices of the Ombudsman for the Department of Corrections and the Department of Human Rights on Fairview Avenue in St. Paul last Friday, September 8.
At the press conference, activists demanding both agencies investigate conditions at Stillwater prison also unveiled a photograph taken two years ago of a toilet with brown water to underscore how pervasive water quality issues have been at the prison. Former prisoners also spoke about the water conditions and how it may have affected their health at an earlier press conference on September 4.
Activists also unveiled a recording of a prisoner who reported on the conditions of the Stillwater prison since inmates at the B East unit took action on September 3. The prisoner, who spoke with the Twin Cities Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation and retribution, reported 30 people involved were placed in segregation for supposedly taking corrections staff hostage after demanding air conditioning and clean water, despite prisoners saying through local advocacy organizations that staff were free to come and go as they please.
The MnDOC disputes the figure, saying seven prisoners from B East were remanded to segregation units for their role in the standoff last Sunday. “We believe they are the organizers of the protest,” said Skoogman, adding that they will be there for 30 days and have due process rights.
At the press conference, family members of those incarcerated at Stillwater, including those related to two of the people reportedly in solitary confinement because of their role in the standoff on September 3, say they have not been able to hear from their loved ones since then. Administrative staff at the Stillwater prison are also reportedly giving them the runaround.
“He has not been led out [for a] call,” said Tori Newton, the wife of Domenico Newton, one of those involved with the Sunday standoff. “I’ve tried to call the prison many times and only get told what I’m saying isn’t true, and have even gotten hung up on.” Newton adds that those in solitary have not been able to have a change of clothing and have only been given cold cereal as food.
The Department of Human Rights did not say whether they plan to investigate the DOC at press time. Margaret Zadra, the ombudsman for the Department of Corrections, could not be reached for comment. A request to the Department of Corrections to tour the Stillwater prison remains pending.