Stillwater prison still on lockdown, welding shop out of use for now

Minnesota Department of Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy announced Friday the welding shop at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Stillwater where Corrections Officer Joseph Gomm was killed will not be used again during his administration. 

Roy held a news conference Friday about safety at state prisons going forward. 

Last Wednesday, 45-year-old Gomm was killed with a weaponized tool that Edward Muhammad Johnson, 42, got ahold of in the welding shop.

Regarding the welding shop, Roy said conversations are ongoing about repurposing the area. As for concerns raised about putting tools in the hands of inmates, he explained there are risks involved with everything they do inside the prisons. 

"We have recognized that this particular shop is a crime scene," said Roy. "And the victims of that crime go beyond Joe Gomm."

 “We have tools and we have potential weapons, if those tools are considered that, used on a daily basis by hundreds and hundreds of offenders,” Roy added. “It’s common practice in corrections.”

Roy admitted a manufacturing specialist, someone who supervises in the industrial shop, was not in the prison the afternoon of Johnson’s alleged attack.

In addition, Roy announced an initiative to install wifi at all state institutions in an effort to take advantage of high-tech security technology including streaming surveillance cameras. There were no cameras on the welding floor where inmate Edward Muhammad Johnson allegedly beat Gomm to death July 18. 

"Right now, we are going to emphasize the areas that really need it," Roy said. "Be thoughtful about where the cameras should go to best serve our needs." 

The Stillwater prison remains on lock down status nine days after the deadly attack. Roy also said there have been three staff resignations and at least 10 people have taken a leave of absence since the deadly assault. 

The DOC and Gov. Mark Dayton have asked lawmakers in recent budgets for additional funds to hire additional correctional officers, but they have not gotten the numbers they believe are needed. 

“We are totally committed in all of our activities to our employees,” Roy said. “We will not put them in dangerous situations. We will be as aggressive as we can be to adjust out policies to make safety a priority.” 

Since the attack, correctional officers have warned about dangerously low staffing levels at the prison. The union promised that Gomm's death would not be in vain, demanding to be included in the conversation over prison safety improvements. 

"We have several policy issues that we will be demanding get resolved," read a statement from AFSCME Council 5’s Corrections Policy Committee. "We have dangerously low numbers of correctional officers, levels that are far worse than the statistics reported by DOC today. This is unacceptable. Officers are not given all the equipment they need to safely do their jobs, and that also must be addressed."

In addition to concerns about staffing levels in the prison, Roy took tough questions about his job status. 

"I do not plan to resign," he said in the face of a growing petition calling for his resignation.