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Inmates calling for more safeguards from coronavirus

The Stillwater prison houses more than 1,500 prisoners, and inmates say they're still gathering in groups of up to 600.

STILLWATER, Minn. — Some inmates are calling for more safeguards to protect them from the coronavirus.

Tony Jackson and Jeffrey Young reached out to KARE TV’s Adrienne Broaddus from inside the Stillwater Correctional Facility.

Both said they are concerned about overcrowding and the lack of social distancing measures in place.

The Stillwater prison houses more than 1,500 prisoners. Jackson says they’ve eliminated some programming but that isn’t enough.

“In their mind, social distancing means taking away the barber and taking away recreational activities outside. We are going to recreation and the gym and to the dining hall in large groups,” Jackson said. “We are sitting next to each other in the dining hall in large groups. In the hall you have up to 600 (people), 300 on one side and 300 on the other side for meals. So this is not making sense to me.”

A Twin Cities mother, Michele Livingston, said she is worried about the Department of Corrections staff and inmates across the state. One of her biggest concerns: women in prison and children in the juvenile justice center.

She said prevent the spread of the virus, inmates are no longer allowed to have visitors.  She last saw her son Jeffrey Young, at the start of the month. She normally sees him every weekend.

Young has been an advocate for cellmates.

“They are  doing some screening of staff but not doing any temp checks. We asked them about that so they compared the prison to Walmart,” he said. “They said “Since Walmart is not doing it we are in a similar situation.’ We explained, this is our house it is not customers coming into a store,” Young said.

We took their concerns and questions to Governor Tim Walz and the Department of Corrections.

“This is another one of those things that keeps me up at night. We’ve stopped some programming of classes but has its own another problem. Locking people in small cells doesn’t work either,” Walz said. “This is tough. We are making moves and taking suggestions. We are doing the best we can. There are alternate plans coming.”

Governor Walz also said Commissioner Paul Schnell is working on ways to stop the spread of the virus.

There have been multiple cases of COVID-19 confirmed at Moose Lake prison.

RELATED: Corrections commissioner presumes 17 coronavirus cases in Moose Lake Prison

Meanwhile, DOC spokesperson Nicholas Kimball, responded to our questions about Stillwater via email.

 “Unfortunately, due to supply shortages, we have been waiting for the proper equipment to conduct temperature checks for some time. We are hopeful they are arriving soon, and are ready to implement temperature checks at the staff screening stations when they arrive,” Kimball  wrote.

Kimball also said social distancing can be a challenge, but believe it is possible.

Here is Kimball's response to the concerns about overcrowding in Stillwater:

All prison wardens, including at Stillwater, are implementing modified program schedules to allow for social distancing, while providing for phone access, recreation, and alternative delivery of education and therapeutic programming. Stillwater is also implementing new dining protocols that will allow around 300 inmates who are particularly medically at risk the option of eating meals in their living unit. This frees up significant space in the dining hall for more distancing.

The goal of the modified program schedules is simple:

  • To control spread by increasing the ability to practice social distancing and
  • Containment through the discontinuation of cross living unit programs and activities.

Stillwater has implemented a number of other measures including:

Redesigned logistics to allow social distancing in behavioral health, Atlantis, and Education.

For example, various education groups have been split into smaller groups that meet at different times and students are given homework to be completed in their living units.

Screening all staff coming into the prison for symptoms and recent travel.

Installed hand washing station at entrance to facility. All are required to wash hands upon entrance.

Hired extra inmate cleaning crews to increase cleaning and disinfecting throughout the facility.

Distributing barrier masks to all inmates and staff at the facility.

Prioritized rec areas differently to be mindful of social distancing.

Reduced staff allowed in the Sally Port from 9 to 6 .  

Closed the barber shop.

Discontinued all athletic activity that involves physical contact.

RELATED: Patient at Minnesota Security Hospital campus hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms

RELATED: Live updates: MN health insurance plans to waive costs for COVID-19 tests, treatment

KARE 11’s coverage of the coronavirus is rooted in Facts, not Fear. Visit kare11.com/coronavirus for comprehensive coverage, find out what you need to know about the Midwest specifically, learn more about the symptoms, and see what companies in Minnesota are hiring. Have a question? Text it to us at 763-797-7215. And get the latest coronavirus updates sent right to your inbox every morning. Subscribe to the KARE 11 Sunrise newsletter here. Help local families in need: www.kare11.com/give11

The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.