MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Stillwater Correctional Facility remains on lockdown after Edward Johnson allegedly fatally beat Officer Joe Gomm with a hammer in a workshop area.
The Department of Corrections has closed that industry building and will use it for something else in the future. But the program designed to give prisoners job skills is now a part of the investigation into how Gomm died.
Minnesota inmates make everything from clothes to furniture in the MINNCOR program. Some of Gomm’s former colleges told WCCO they believe production goals came at the cost of his safety.
Lieutenant Bob Plumm spent 28 years at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater. Nearly half as middle management, before retiring two years ago.
“I’ve seen it over and over and over. MINNCOR had a priority over security,” Plumm said. “I was responsible for dealing with all disciplinary infractions throughout the facility.”
In that role, Plumm says there was a growing push at daily meetings to get prisoners back to work.
“If we had a serious assault or if a certain unit or the facility was locked down, the MINNCOR director was sitting right next to me saying, ‘When can we get these inmates out?’ I have a product that I need to get out by a certain deadline,” he said.
MINNCOR Industries has a near 25-year history in six correctional facilities. Its business office is in Roseville. From park benches to reflective clothing and custodial supplies, MINNCOR produces 18 product lines. They’re sold to nonprofits, state agencies and private businesses.
In its last annual report, we found the program reported a net income of $5 million in 2017, $1 million more than the year before. The department reports that as 1 percent of its total budget.
In Stillwater, more than 300 of the prisons’ 1,600 inmates are allowed workshop positions. But WCCO learned there have been safety concerns inside them for some time.
Gomm was attacked with a hammer on the third floor of a MINNCOR building where welding and painting takes place. Some of his colleagues told us three corrections officers are assigned to supervise 85 offenders inside and there are only security cameras on the first floor, not the third, where Gomm lost his life.
Corrections commissioner Tom Roy defended MINNCOR at Friday morning’s news conference. He acknowledged they were down one position last week in that area.
“We were absent one correctional manufacturing specialist,” Roy said.
He also said there are plans to equip the building where Gomm died with security cameras. The DOC is three years into a five-year plan for camera updates.
Roy said officer safety is a top priority and recognized the mission of the DOC, to make people better.
“Our goal is to meet recidivism and those activities we have proven reduce recividism,” Roy said.
Roy also told reporters many inmates have access to tools every day whether walking by a grounds crew. Or, on-duty in a workshop, calling it part of prison history across the country.
“That is common practice in corrections,” he said.
The AFSCME Correctional Policy Committee issued a response Friday afternoon to Roy’s press conference:
We and our 2,000 correctional brothers and sisters from across Minnesota have spent the past week and a half mourning the loss of our fallen brother, correctional officer Joseph Gomm. We send our condolences to his mother, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, and friends. We will hold Joe and his wicked sense of humor, his great sense of integrity and his commitment to our mission close in our hearts.
We want to thank all of the correctional workers, other law enforcement officers and the communities who helped us through this past week. We greatly appreciate the outpouring of love and support for Joe and our correctional family.
We will not let Joseph Gomm die in vain. We want to ensure that every person who works in corrections can come home safely, and that we can keep our institutions and communities safe.
Although the Department of Corrections has communicated during this time of mourning, they have not communicated with us about the safety measures presented today nor given us an opportunity to work with them to find solutions.
We have several policy issues that we will be demanding get resolved. 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.
After years of asking legislators for enough funding to do our jobs safely, we are demanding bipartisan support, communication and collaboration from the Department and all levels of state government to provide us with the adequate level of correctional officers, tools, resources and policies we need to do our job and to keep our institutions and the public safe.