What’s it like inside Stillwater Prison?
Published 10:37 am Friday, May 16, 2014
BAYPORT — This month marks 100 years that Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater has been housing offenders.
To warden Michelle Smith, that’s a milestone to celebrate.
“Not a lot of businesses can say they’ve been doing the same thing for 100 years,” she said during a press conference May 2 at the prison. “This is a historic building, but it has a living legacy.”
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She said the prison has been operating non-stop seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Smith oversees 529 staff members, including two captains, 17 lieutenants, 300 correctional officers, treatment professionals and caseworkers, among others.
Over 1,600 offenders are currently housed at MCF-Stillwater, a significantly larger number than when the prison initially opened in 1914, said Smith. She said the prison is just about at maximum capacity.
“One hundred years can be structurally difficult,” said Smith. “The walls confine us.”
Of the inmates in Stillwater, over 550 of them are serving sentences for murder, over 300 for assault and just under 300 for criminal sexual conduct, among other criminal sentences.
The Minnesota correctional system has a five-level system classification structure ranging from level 2, minimum custody, to level 5, which is maximum custody. The Stillwater facility is a level 4, close custody facility. Offenders are placed at Stillwater based on offense characteristics, programming directives, criminal history, institutional adjustments, detainers, escape history and prior incarcerations.
According to Smith, the facility does have to deal with gangs within the confines of the prison, which the staff refers to as “security threat groups.”
Of the men housed at the facility, about 45 percent are black and 43 percent are white, with the remaining being American Indian, Hispanic and other ethnicities. The oldest offender currently at the prison is 77, the youngest is 18 and the average age is around 36. Ten offenders are currently housed at Stillwater that were committed from Freeborn County.
Smith said one of the biggest priorities in the facility is education, whether it’s in the form of chemical dependency treatment, GED testing, art and writing classes, anger management, work operatives or something else instructive.
“They need the ability to make better choices, and we’re trying to help them do that,” she said, “Giving them things that make them think, that make them better.”