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January 17, 2018

Another melee injures 3 inmates, prison says

Another melee injures 3 inmates, prison says

Three inmates were injured, and windows and surveillance equipment were damaged in a “disturbance” late Thursday night in the Cummins…

Three inmates were injured, and windows and surveillance equipment were damaged in a “disturbance” late Thursday night in the Cummins prison near Grady, according to a statement Friday from the state Department of Correction.

The incident at Arkansas’ largest prison was the latest in a string of violent outbursts at several high-security lockups this summer. The state prisons director has said the violence appears to be worse than in previous years.

No corrections officers were injured as they quelled the disturbance, according to a news release. After being taken to an area hospital for treatment of bruising on their faces and heads, the three inmates were returned to the prison Friday, a spokesman said.

Prison spokesman Solomon Graves said Friday morning that the incident did not appear to rise to the level of a riot. He declined to make Department of Correction Director Wendy Kelley or the warden at Cummins available for an interview, citing “scheduling conflicts.”

Officials have released few details about what occurred in any of the previous disturbances, including a July altercation at the Tucker Unit in which an inmate later died.

Similarly, there was little information divulged about what may have prompted the outbreak of violence in the barracks at the Cummins Unit, which began around 11 p.m. Thursday. Graves said the disturbance was unrelated to previous ones at other prisons.

The disturbance occurred inside a 46-man open-style barracks, Graves said. He said staff members were still reviewing tapes and collecting statements to determine how many inmates were involved.

Arkansas State Police officials were called to investigate and the Department of Correction began its own internal investigation Friday.

The findings of the prison system’s internal investigations regarding inmates will not be made public, Graves said, citing an exemption from the state’s Freedom of Information Act for “inmate records.”

Arkansas Code Annotated 12-27-113 requires the director of the Department of Correction to keep a full record of each inmate, including a photo, but prohibits the disclosure of those records except by rule or court order.

The department posts some basic information about each inmate, along with a photo, on its website, in accordance with the law.

State police records related to active investigations also are protected from disclosure, according to spokesman Bill Sadler.

Last month, Sadler said he surveyed investigators and found 26 active cases of assault or battery involving inmates or inmates and guards, according to The Associated Press. He said he did not know Friday how many of those cases remain open.

Sadler did confirm Friday that state police are still reviewing a pair of incidents at the Maximum Security Unit in Tucker that occurred in July and August. In each instance, inmates were able to break free from solitary pens, and in the latter, they briefly held guards hostage. State police also continue to investigate the August death of 25-year-old inmate John Demoret, who died more than a week after he was involved in an altercation at the Tucker Unit.

Family members often learn accounts of prison violence from the inmates themselves, and the information is difficult to corroborate, according to Anna Errors of Atlanta. Errors said her son was attacked last month at the East Arkansas Unit in Brickeys.

An “altercation” between two inmates, resulting in minor injuries, did occur at the unit Aug. 20, according to Graves. Errors said her 40-year-old son, Ronald Hamilton Jr., serving a life sentence as a habitual offender, told her he was stabbed by a gang member.

Errors said she did not learn of the incident until nearly a week later when her son called her and told her about it. She said her attempts to get records, including security footage, were rebuffed, and prison officials have not elaborated on how the attack occurred.

“They will not give me any information,” Errors said. “They said people were being disciplined and that’s all I needed to know.”

“I don’t know what to do,” she added later in a phone call Friday.

In a statement Friday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he receives “regular and timely reports” about significant incidents at Arkansas prisons.

The statement, emailed though a spokesman, praised prison officials for doing “an excellent job under very difficult circumstances both responding to and controlling any acts of violence in a system that houses almost 16,000 convicted felons.”

Lawmakers held a meeting last month with Kelley, the prison director, who revealed that the pair of incidents at the Maximum Security Unit were the result of faulty fencing equipment in the prison’s recreational area.

Since that meeting, the co-chairman of the Legislative Council’s Subcommittee on Charitable, Penal and Correctional Institutions — state Rep. David Fielding, D-Magnolia — has not sought or received additional reports about violence in prisons, he said Friday.

At a Board of Corrections meeting earlier this month in Russellville, Kelley said it is not unusual to see violence rise at prisons during the summer, but she added that the uptick this year appeared to be more pronounced. She added, echoing several board members, that more maximum-security cells are needed to lock up the most troublesome prisoners.

A Section on 09/16/2017

Source: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Another melee injures 3 inmates, prison says

Another melee injures 3 inmates, prison says


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