Red Lake Nation News - Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)

Stillwater Prisoners Fear Being Locked out of Legislative Hearing at their Own Prison


January 30, 2019

This Wednesday, Minnesota legislatures are going to ‘make history’ holding the first hearing inside Stillwater Prison. Yet prisoners at Stillwater express concern that they’ll be locked out of the hearing at their own prison.

“They locked us all down while the legislators toured [Friday]. I'm speculating that we'll get the same treatment Wednesday” says Jeffery Young, prisoner at Stillwater. His speculations are not unmerited.

According to the House Corrections Committee staff, the DOC has yet to guarantee any prisoners will be allowed to speak, with a possibility of a “single prisoner” speaking on behalf of “all residents”.

Multiple prisoners at Stillwater report feeling deeply troubled at being locked out of a hearing at their own prison, though their reasons vary. For one anonymous Stillwater prisoner "not allowing our voices is more of the same---a cover up of the truth. They don't want the truth exposed that staff assaults stem from abusive, demeaning, and disrespectful treatment towards the prisoners."

Another anonymous Stillwater prisoner agrees: "I’ve been verbally assaulted by staff and treated bad because of my disability. I’ve been assaulted by other prisoners a bunch of times because my mental illness sometimes gets to me. They say they are concerned with the safety of staff AND prisoners. Why only talk to staff then? I want to speak up for my safety, the same that staff get to."

Young feels prisoners lives are being used as a media stunt - "the most productive reason to hold a legislative hearing in MCF-Stillwater is to allow prisoners' voices in the discussion... Disrupting rehabilitative programming for legislators to rent the building out solely for the purposes of symbolism and not to access the voices of all effected, does not contribute to creating a safer environment in prisons."

While yet others, see a financial basis to silencing prisoners voices. According to Leonard Richards, also a prisoner at Stillwater ““incidents” in Minnesota state prisons are being provoked by staff to "dramatize" the "need" for more money to hire even more guards...The guard union focuses almost entirely on PRISONS, not on dealing with people in non-prison settings. It is so much easier for corrections staff to hide from the public in prisons than to be out and about in the community, where the citizenry can see what corrections personnel are doing (and not doing). The PRISON RACKET is a scam against not only the prisoners, but also against the TAXPAYERS!”

Finally, for Stillwater prisoner Bernard Dingle, it’s about fairness: "even tho I have been convicted and deemed mere prisoner or number I’m still a human, my voice needs to be heard and feelings felt”.

The hearing is a result of the only killing of a prison guard in Minnesota history last July. Guards claim 327 more guards are needed to ensure staff safety. In a recent policy platform prisoners assert reducing prison population “is a more ethical and cost effective way to achieve increased staff ratios”. Prisoners also claim safety requires accountability - and want an ombudsman reinstated to do so. According to BCA statistics 147 prisoners died in Minnesota prisons between 2005-2014.


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