Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Disturbing News

I wasn't originally planning to blog about this, but today's news about the riot at the Indiana prison brought me to it.

Our facility was overcrowded recently due to the closing of another prison. We were running 200 inmates over capacity. A conference room on the administrative floor was temporarily turned into a housing area, with mattresses on the floor at night and all through the weekend. During the day when the conference room was in use the inmates were transferred to a single holding cell across from my department.

On the day in question it was hot. Not Life In Hell hot, but uncomfortable. It always takes a couple days for the institutional ventilation system to catch up to the external weather. The inmates were crowded together with no showers, no recreation and no commissary.

When an officer opened the door to let someone out, an inmate charged the door. Voices were raised and got loud. Then louder. Then louder. I heard the officer radio for assistance.

The holding cell was across from my department. I was alone with our secretaries. When the noise level rose I went out to check on the action, thinking it might be wise to have a shrink available to intervene.

What an idiot.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Note to self: do not run into a burning building when you are not carrying a hose.

Do not walk toward a pending riot when you are not armed.

Fortunately the black shirts arrived first---a swarm of front line officers, a duty lieutenant and a major. I retreated back to the department and planned an escape route and made sure the clerks knew what to do. (I sure hope the locks on the back office work like I hope they work.)

The loudest inmate calmed down and custody made arrangements to take them out for showers in groups of five. The holding cell was locked back up and no one was injured. The next day 60 inmates were transferred out and now we're back to normal. Life is good.

What happened was understandable given the conditions, but consider Indiana: The prison was only five years old so presumably the ventilation, temperature regulation and cleanliness were all reasonably good. The facility was significantly under census, not crowded. The inmates transferred there were specifically chosen to be non-violent offenders.

It can happen at any time, at any place, for any reason. Here's keeping my fingers crossed for my colleagues in Indiana.