A Minnesota Department of Corrections employee told Alpha News this week that staff wellness areas were shut down in early November and remain closed, yet indoor exercise areas for inmates were reopened earlier this month.
Meanwhile, public gyms across the state were ordered to close by Gov. Tim Walz.
“The decision regarding staff wellness rooms was made in consultation with the Minnesota Department of Health through a process of questions and answers, and evaluating the potential risk for infection spread. The people who are incarcerated do not have the same options as our staff who can move around and exercise outdoors, in the community, and in their own homes,” a DOC spokesperson told Alpha News.
“The incarcerated people need a place to get their physical energy out or it can become a health and safety issue for them, our staff, and other incarcerated people,” the spokesperson said.
The DOC employee, who asked to remain anonymous, claimed that the “entire inmate population has opportunities to exercise outdoors at least two to three hours daily.”
“They can also (and typically do) work out in their cells. Some of the living units throughout the state have workout equipment inside the unit (Stillwater and St. Cloud), but every facility has a gym for inmates to use,” added the employee, who said the DOC reopened gyms for inmate use on Dec. 2.
“Inmates get to work out, but not law abiding citizens,” the employee continued.
Health clubs and fitness centers were directed to shut down for four weeks under a Nov. 18 executive order. That order, issued in response to rising COVID-19 cases and deaths, implies that all gyms are required to close, regardless of where they are located.
Hospitals, for example, obviously aren’t required to close, but gyms within hospitals are closed, the order suggests. Similarly, gyms within an “apartment building, condominium, or housing complex” must close. Alpha News reached out to the Minnesota Department of Health for clarification on this point, but did not receive a response.
Minnesota’s inmate population has experienced a total of 3,331 COVID-19 cases and six deaths, according to the DOC.
A coalition of Minnesota gym owners recently asked Gov. Walz to reopen fitness centers, since their industry is connected to just .003% of all COVID-19 cases in the state, they said.
One Minnesota gym that planned to disregard the governor’s mandate was court-ordered to shut down last week after Attorney General Keith Ellison intervened.