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Rush City prison disturbances unrelated, officials say


Curt Brown, Star Tribune
Published December 2, 2003

Two disturbances last week at the state prison in Rush City were unrelated, a corrections official said Monday. But a local Somali activist disagreed, saying refugee Keyse Jama has been transferred to the Oak Park Heights prison to silence Somali detainees' demands for updates on their immigration cases.

Assistant Corrections Commissioner Chris Bray said Saturday's disturbance, which prompted a prison lockdown, did not involve any detained immigrants from Somalia or other foreign nationals housed at the prison for the Department of Homeland Security.

She said Saturday's offenders barricaded themselves into a housing unit and damaged windows, light fixtures and appliances before being persuaded to return to their cells. A preliminary investigation points to a schedule change as the impetus for the disturbance, which remains under investigation, Bray said.

Earlier last week, several of the 970 inmates at Rush City were segregated or placed in isolation after banging on cells, overflowing toilets and demanding answers about the status of their immigration cases.

Omar Jamal, a Somali activist, said Monday the two disturbances were connected, with nonimmigrants expressing anger about how the Somalis have been treated. Jamal said Jama was transferred to Oak Park Heights because he was considered the leader of the first disruption.

"They are trying to shut him up by sending him to a maximum security prison," said Jamal, who accused immigration authorities and prison officials of mistreating Somali inmates. (Jamal is facing his own deportation case for allegedly lying on the immigration documents he filed when he applied for refugee status in 1998.)

Jama, 24, lost his legal residency status after pleading guilty to a 1999 assault. He has served his sentence, but has been held in the Rush City prison since a federal judge said he couldn't be sent back to Somalia because it lacks a central government.

Carl Rusnok, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, confirmed that Jama had been transferred to Oak Park Heights for disciplinary reasons

"Any detention facility will use legal methods to maintain good order and discipline for the safety and security of the detainees and the guards," Rusnok said.

Bray, Jamal and Rush City Warden Robert Feneis are scheduled to meet next week to discuss issues involving Somali detainees.

Story sent to us by Omar Jamal - Somali Advocacy Center

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