Minn. DOC in talks with prisoners after work strike
On Friday, 115 offenders assigned to the facility’s anagram balloon factory refused to work for a full day until prison administrators met with them to hear their complaints
By Liz Sawyer
RUSH CITY, Minn. — The Department of Corrections (DOC) has agreed to negotiate with a group of inmates at Rush City prison after more than 100 offenders staged a work strike last week to protest what they call “abusive” conditions.
Prisoners have complained of a recent slowdown in delivery from the commissary — where they purchase basic toiletries, over-the-counter medications and snacks — as well as mistreatment by corrections officers, according to the Twin Cities Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, a group of activists inside and outside prison.
“They just keep taking things away … then they overcrowd the prison and treat us like animals,” said a Rush City inmate, who declined to be identified for fear of reprimand.
On Friday, 115 offenders assigned to the facility’s anagram balloon factory refused to work for a full day until prison administrators met with them to hear their complaints, activists said. Over the weekend, Warden Jeff Titus and an official from the Office of Special Investigations began negotiations over two separate meetings.
DOC spokeswoman Sarah Fitzgerald confirmed that several inmates didn’t report to work assignments that day, while others purposely slowed production “in an effort to raise concerns they had with facility operations.” She said most inmates did perform their work assignments without incident.
Normal programming has resumed at the facility, Fitzgerald said.
The activist group alleged that abuse by corrections officers, in conjunction with overcrowding, is to blame for a surge in assaults directed at DOC employees this year. Attacks at Stillwater and Oak Park Heights killed officers Joseph Gomm and Joe Parise, respectively.
Department data show that overall staff assaults have steadily increased since 2014, when the agency recorded 27 individual staff victims. As of Oct. 19, the DOC had recorded 51 individual staff victims in 2018 whose cases qualified for criminal prosecution, compared to 59 in all of 2017.
Meanwhile, AFSCME Council 5, the union representing 2,500 state corrections officers, has blamed the violence on unprecedented levels of understaffing and a lack of political will at the Capitol. Union leaders couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.
Rush City is a high-security prison located an hour northeast of Minneapolis that houses nearly 1,000 male offenders. Almost one-third of inmates are serving time for homicide convictions.