Activists demand change, DOC orders water quality re-test after inmate protest at Stillwater prison

Demanding change inside Stillwater prison

Demanding change inside Stillwater prison

Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) Commissioner Paul Schnell ordered a re-test of the drinking water at the state’s Stillwater prison on Monday, according to spokesperson Andy Skoogman, after a group of community activists held a press conference in front of the prison earlier in the day calling for change over alleged “inhumane” conditions inside the facility.

The test will “verify past test results, which deemed the water safe,” Skoogman said.

Cheers were heard from inside the walls of the prison on Monday afternoon as activists called for action after frustration from inmates inside culminated in about 100 inmates staging a roughly 8-hour protest which resolved peacefully late Sunday afternoon.

RELATED: Inmates return to cells at Stillwater prison after staging protest

“The first priority will be for them to have clean water,” said Marvina Haynes, opening the press conference.

Her brother, Marvin Haynes, is an inmate in the Stillwater prison and has maintained his innocence since a 2004 murder conviction when he was 17 years old.

“I sat in this place for 12 years,” said another speaker, Lovell Oates. “Everything they’re talking about were the problems 25 years ago. You know what I’m saying? So there is no difference. The water is brown.”

The color alone does not mean water is contaminated, but multiple tips to KSTP on Sunday claimed the water was undrinkable, and the group who addressed the media on Monday continued to put that concern first.

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The DOC in response on Sunday, called the claims about a lack of clean water in the facility “patently false.”

It was the only claim on Sunday that the DOC outright refuted after acknowledging that short staffing of corrections officers led to inmates being locked up about 23 hours a day over the holiday weekend and others this summer. Commissioner Schnell, in a press conference on Sunday evening, also confirmed it’s “exceedingly hot” in the facility and most DOC facilities.

Asked how hot it was in the housing units on a day when temperatures were in the mid-90s, Schnell said, “You’re probably talking that the temperatures could get into the 80s.”

That’s not a new issue, according to Schnell. Nor are the water quality concerns, according to activists, who said they’ve called for independent testing of the water.

“As someone who’s been there, you know it’s like, at times it’s really heavy, like soup,” Tommy Powell, who was formerly incarcerated in Stillwater, said. 

“But then other times it’s fine.”

Asked if the water is undrinkable, Powell said, “The water that comes in the ice machines, that’s the only water you can really drink. Some people get, like, rashes. The water causes rashes and stuff.”

Commissioner Schnell refuted that while speaking to reporters on Sunday.

“There’s not a factual basis for that. The water has been tested here, and there has never been thought to be any issues with water whatsoever.”

Skoogman was still working to confirm the last time the water was tested as of this report, adding, “Regardless, we have had no reports of an uptick or an outbreak of waterborne illness in recent weeks or months. “