Protesters rally outside Stillwater prison after emergency lockdown

Extreme heat is putting a focus again on the problems highlighted by a peaceful inmate protest at the Stillwater state prison.

The protest ended Sunday, but their advocates came again Monday as a lockdown kept the inmates out of communication.

The inmates are mostly cut off from everybody on the Labor Day weekend because the prison is on lockdown because of staffing issues, but they had a back-and-forth with supporters this afternoon.

"What do we want? Justice," chanted the prisoner advocates as they marched past the south wing of the prison.

Their demand for help for inmates got a loud response from inside the facility’s brick walls.

Over the weekend, about 100 of those inmates protested conditions by refusing to return to their cells from the area where they make phone calls and take showers.

They complained about being stuck in hot cells without access to airy spaces and activities for extended periods, including during the extremely hot holiday weekend.

"It got to a point now where we had to take a peaceful protest and say we ain’t taking it no more," an inmate explained in a recorded message shared with FOX 9.

State prison officials tell us they’re looking into air conditioning at several older prisons like Stillwater’s, but that’ll be an expensive request to the state legislature. And they blamed a staffing shortage for access issues.

The Stillwater prison is short 50 correctional officers and the state is down about 300, or 14% of their workforce.

"We simply had to implement a more modified schedule for the course of this weekend and we understand the challenges around that, but this is how we have to manage it in light of where we are," said Department of Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell.

He says the DOC is recruiting staff, but prisoner advocates say the solution is much simpler.

"If you have a staffing crisis, you can address the staffing crisis by letting people home for good," said David Boehnke of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee.

A new state law cleared the way for early prison releases.

Boehnke says 1400 low-risk offenders became eligible to get out on Aug. 1.

But the DOC won’t implement the early release program for at least a year, leaving them to suffer through heat waves in buildings without air conditioning.

"If we think about the way we have to take care of our pets, we cannot leave our pets in a car in this type of heat," said Marvina Haynes, whose brother is imprisoned in Stillwater.