Inside look at Stillwater prison's double bunking

A rare look inside a Minnesota prison and a look into a particular practice there called double bunking.  The Department of Corrections is trying this in an effort to save money.  But it's not without risks.  5 EYEWITNESS NEWS gives you the first ever look inside Stillwater's double bunked cells.

More prisoners and less money.  The Minnesota Department of Corrections says those two factors left them with no choice.  At Saint Cloud and Stillwater, they'd have to cram two men into cells built for one.  That was a year ago.  See for yourself how well it's working.  You'll hear from those in charge and from the prisoners themselves.

Prisons by nature are not quiet places.   But take a walk inside Stillwater and you'll hear one section roaring above the rest.

This is B-West and it's loud.  Built for 250 inmates it now holds 400.  "They try to make it nice, but you can't make this nice, inmate Christopher Haney said. 

In a space so small you can touch opposite walls at the same time two men try, sometimes in vain to keep out of each other's way.  "If you're in with a guy and ya'll cool it's not bad.  But if you're in here with somebody and you don't get along this is a very tight place, inmate Arteze Lewis said.

Other inmates go off to jobs seven hours a day.  They return tired and more ready to rest than fight.

But they are only so many jobs to go around.  Most on B-West are new and don't have one and that's why they're here.  They're out of their cells just one hour a day.  23 hours in a six-by-ten space with zero privacy.

Deputy Commissioner of Corrections Dennis Benson explains, "Certainly one of the obvious issues is that every room has a toilet.  And use of toilet facilities can be an issue when you double bunk."

Inmate Christopher Haney said, "A lot more tension.  You've got to deal with your roommate and the guys next you up and down the hall."

Prison officials say they're trying to reduce that tension.  They've learned tough lessons along the way.  The number of assaults at Stillwater jumped when double bunking began.  Last summer two separate incidents injured a staff member and two inmates.  "We had B-West locked up for several weeks as a result of trying to strike that balance, Warden Daniel Ferrise said. 

They've lowered the number of inmates, adjusted schedules and do more cell searches.  But that can only reduce the danger of working here.  "Double celling at higher custody facility is a risk and we're in the business of making calculated risks."

Corrections says the number of assaults is back down to normal but officials tell us they've taken double bunking as far as it can go.  With the prison population expected to rise by another 700 this year they're hoping for more money from the legislature to add new cells or to send inmates to private prisons.  But with another state budget deficit that won't be easy.    

 


Top News (stories)