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Faribault prison lockdowns due to drug overdoses — not staffing shortages, families of inmates claim

Families seek answers for string of Faribault prison lockdowns
Families seek answers for string of Faribault prison lockdowns 02:00

FARIBAULT, Minn. — The family and friends of inmates at Minnesota's largest prison are accusing state officials of withholding information about a series of lockdowns over the past several months.

In April, Department of Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell told WCCO News that staff shortages had been a key factor behind the lockdowns, but the advocates on Tuesday charged it was more because of drug overdoses.

"As far as what we get told, the ambulance arrives and takes them to the nearest hospital," Liz, who said her loved one has been at Faribault for 14 years, recalled. "They were locked down last week three and a half days."

Gerri, another concerned family member, said she's been told from inside that the lockdowns caused by overdoses have cut into meals and rehabilitation programming.

"One person overdoses and that entire unit gets locked down," she said. "My loved one in there to better himself, going to schooling, going to programming, doing things for himself, and one person in his unit overdoses and he gets locked in? It's destroying people's little sliver or hope that they're moving towards betterment by confining them in a small space."

The commissioner was unavailable for comment on Tuesday, but a spokesperson for the DOC denied the allegations and maintained that lockdowns "have not been related to any instances of suspected synthetic drug use."  

Minnesota correctional facilities, and correctional facilities across the nation, are working to stem the introduction of synthetic drugs, which enter the prison system through the U.S. mail, invisible and undetectable because they are comprised of unknown compounds. Websites offer for sale papers laden with synthetic chemical material that can produce intoxication, cause serious illness, and even death.  These sheets of paper can then be used for letters or documents that are sent to incarcerated persons via the U.S. Mail.  The DOC is working to stop the introduction of synthetic chemical substances in its facilities through a variety of strategies. Determining the frequency of suspected overdoses remains a challenge: synthetic drug-related incidences may appear as a medical incident, such as a seizure, and in other instances a person may be visibly intoxicated.  Incarcerated individuals who have ingested these substances and been rushed to a hospital have spoken of the extreme illness they experienced after using the substance, even though still testing negative for the standard array of drugs of abuse. The DOC continues to look for ways to improve the safety and security of staff and the incarcerated population at all facilities.  

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