Rioting inmates set prison ablaze

August 22, 2009 1:27:56 PM PDT
Rioting inmates set fire to trash cans and other items inside a central Kentucky prison, and damage to some buildings was so extensive that officials were busing many of the facility's 1,200 prisoners elsewhere, police said Saturday. By early morning, firefighters had extinguished the fires at the medium-security Northpoint Training Center in a rural area 30 miles south of Lexington, state police Lt. David Jude said.

Eight inmates were treated for minor injuries, and eight staff were also injured in the melee, although none of the employees were admitted to the hospital, said Cheryl Million, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Corrections.

Officers in riot gear rushed the prisoners with tear gas about 9 p.m. Friday, and all the inmates were subdued in less than two hours, authorities said.

Six buildings had burned, including a kitchen, medical center, canteen and visitation area. Million also said all but one of the dormitories, a 196-bed unit, were damaged and uninhabitable.

A bus carrying some 42 inmates deemed higher security risks left the property shortly after 6 a.m., heading to an undisclosed facility. It wasn't clear how many other inmates would have to be moved.

Gov. Steve Beshear praised corrections officials and state police for handling the situation without any serious injuries.

"Their work last night in the face of the most trying circumstances was truly remarkable," Beshear said in a statement. "Corrections officials are currently assessing the extent of damage to determine the needs going forward for safely housing prisoners in the coming days and for the long term."

Some of the inmates would be able to stay at Northpoint, Million said.

"As we continue to assess the situation, other inmates could possibly be transferred," Million said. "Decisions to transfer would be based on facilities security levels and inmates' needs."

Jude said the prisoners were being kept in an outdoor courtyard surrounded by prison guards. Police formed a perimeter around the outside of the facility to make sure no one escaped.

Portable toilets were brought in, and prison officials were using temporary food stations to feed the prisoners because the fire in the kitchen destroyed much of the prison's food supply.

"Everything seems to be at a calm," Jude said. "They're sitting down, kind of going with the program right now."

Jude didn't immediately say what caused of the rioting, which began around 6:30 p.m. Friday.

Prison spokeswoman Mendolyn Cochran said Friday the prison had been on lockdown since Tuesday, when one group of inmates assaulted two others, The Advocate-Messenger of Danville reported. Later Friday, some inmates started setting fires in trash cans, she said.

Million wouldn't confirm the report, saying only that some of the fires started in trash cans and that some inmates had access to matches because smoking is allowed in parts of the prison.

The melee in Kentucky comes two weeks after more than 1,000 inmates rioted at the California Institution for Men in Southern California. The prison was designed to hold about half as many inmates, although investigators say they don't know if crowding helped spark the racially charged riot.

Northpoint has more than 1,100 general population inmates housed in six open-bay dormitories, according to its Web site. Another 60 special management inmates are housed in single cells in a separate structure, and 40 minimum-security inmates are housed in another separate structure.

It opened in 1983 and has a staff of 285.

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