Tension Over Transfers Suspected In Prison Riot

Two Staff Members Injured In Uprising

About 500 inmates staged a nearly three-hour riot Tuesday at a state prison run by a private company, setting fires in a courtyard, injuring two staff members and trapping some guards and others before order was restored.

Authorities were investigating whether the uprising started because newly arrived prisoners from Arizona were upset about their treatment.

Two staff members and seven inmates suffered minor injuries in the disturbance, during which prison officials used tear gas to regain control of the medium-security men's prison. The disturbance occurred six weeks after the first of some 600 Arizona inmates began arriving at the New Castle Correctional Facility, joining about 1,050 Indiana prisoners.

Inmates from both states were involved, though no one escaped, Indiana Department of Correction officials said.

Prison guard Larry Savage said he and five other employees -- two guards and three maintenance workers -- barricaded themselves inside a room as dozens of inmates tried to break in before a prison response team arrived and they were able to walk out.

"We were basically held hostage for 15 minutes or so," Savage said. He remained visibly shaken several hours afterward and said he looked forward to returning to his family.

Indiana Department of Correction Commissioner J. David Donahue said he has delayed the transfer of 600 more Arizona inmates until authorities can reassess the condition of the prison.

"My gut reaction is there is a cultural difference in the operational deliveries of our systems," Donahue told reporters.

The riot started at about 2 p.m. as 40 prisoners from the Arizona side of the prison refused to return to their living area from the cafeteria, Donahue said.

The conflict escalated as the inmates took off their shirts in a unified front to protest staff orders, prison officials said. About 100 Indiana inmates in their recreation area also started to become disruptive as mattresses and paper were set afire in the courtyard and prisoners destroyed furniture, broke windows and some armed themselves with clubs.

Dozens of prisoners roamed the courtyard at the New Castle Correctional Facility.

Eventually, about 500 prisoners rioted, the Department of Correction said. Thick black smoke billowed from two fires in the courtyard. Some prisoners destroyed facility furnishings and broke windows, officials said.

Not long after the riot's start, video from 6News' helicopter showed dozens of inmates in the prison yard. Later, shortly before 5 p.m., video showed many inmates lying on the ground as officers reasserted control.

The Department of Correction said the situation was under control by 4:45 p.m.

The injured staff members suffered cuts and scrapes, while the injuries to inmates involved tear gas exposure and minor cuts. All seven inmates were treated at the prison, said Trina Randall, spokeswoman for GEO Group Inc., a Florida company that contracted last year with the state to manage the prison.

Donahue said some of the Arizona inmates were unhappy with some of the differences between their old prisons' rules and the rules of their new one. For example, he said, inmates can smoke at Arizona prisons, but they can't at New Castle.

Donahue said Arizona inmates did not clash with Indiana prisoners. The two groups, he said, were separated by a fence.

"It was not a conflict between Arizona and Indiana prisoners," he said. "It didn't have any direct correlation to that issue."

Officials: No Prisoner Got Outside Property's Perimeter

Donahue and state police said no prisoner had gotten beyond the property's fenced perimeter. He said some inmates didn't take part in the riot.

About three hours after the riot started, many inmates were lying on the ground as officers reasserted control.

When a reporter asked him why it took several hours for authorities to get the prisoners under control, Donahue said he and others wanted to let the situation settle and allow prisoners to separate themselves from the incident.

"We didn't have anyone in harm's way. We didn't need to overreact," he said.

Several police agencies -- including the Indiana State Police, the FBI, the Henry County Sheriff's Department and the New Castle Police Department -- said Tuesday afternoon they were called to assist.

Arizona Inmates Had No Choice In Transfer

Katie Decker, spokeswoman for Arizona's corrections department, said the department is "working hand-in-hand with Indiana officials" regarding Tuesday's riot near New Castle, which is about 40 miles east of downtown Indianapolis.

Arizona and Indiana officials agreed to the prisoner transfer in part because the New Castle facility wasn't even half full and because Arizona's prisons were crowded.

Decker said Arizona needed to send some of its inmates to other states because it had 4,000 more prisoners than it should handle.

"It isn't something like to do, but when you're looking at a crunch, you have to put them where you can," said Decker, who added that Arizona also has inmates in Oklahoma.

Decker said only medium-security inmates who weren't believed to be prone to violence were transferred from Arizona to New Castle. She said the transferred inmates were not given a choice as to where they would be held.

Lawmaker: Transfer Process Might Need Reassessment

State Rep. Tom Saunders, R-New Castle, told 6News that he was proud of the efforts by local law enforcement, state police and other authorities to control the uprising.

This woman, identifying herself only as Jennifer, said she is related to one of the prison's workers. She said the Arizona inmates were upset about their transfers to Indiana. "Those Arizona inmates did not want to be here," she said. "They got moved in the middle of the night, not knowing where they were going. They've been upset about it since day one."

However, he said the process by which Arizona prisoners are chosen to transfer to New Castle might need to be reassessed.

Saunders said he visited the prison four weeks ago and heard that some inmates from Arizona weren't adjusting well. He said the Arizona inmates weren't allowed to say goodbye to relatives before the transfer, and some items that they were allowed to possess in Arizona's prisons weren't permitted at New Castle.

"I think we need to look at how those prisoners are chosen, and maybe they need to be made aware of the situation before they're shipped here," Saunders said.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels praised the response by prison staff and police agencies to the disturbance.

"Corrections is a high-risk business managing high-risk offenders," Daniels said in a statement. "These events always remind us of the unseen bravery and service of those who protect us by guarding those who have harmed society in the past."

Workers' Relatives: Arizona Inmates Were Angry

Friends and relatives of the prison's workers said they were talking to the workers by cell phone during the riot.

"They're hiding themselves in bathrooms," said a woman who identified herself only as Jennifer. She said she was a relative of one of the prison's staff members.

Jennifer and other acquaintances of the prison's workers told 6News that the Arizona inmates were upset about their transfers.

"Those Arizona inmates did not want to be here," Jennifer said. "They got moved in the middle of the night, not knowing where they were going. They've been upset about it since day one."

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