Monday, May 21, 2012

The Aftermath of A Riot - Making Sence Out Of Madness

I have been reading a lot of the various news media reports on what happened at the Adams County Correctional Facility and trying to make some sense out of it. None of the reports really seems to add up to me.

We now know that twenty-five (25) staff members were taken hostage.  The Natchez Democrat reported that at 9:11 P.M. "Adams County Sheriff Chuck Mayfield said approximately eight staff members are still inside the prison, and a number of agencies are working to get them out." Keeping in mind that this riot happened on a Sunday.  Sundays are typically the slowest day in a prison and sometimes this can result in understaffing at prisons due to a perception that nothing really needs to happen on a Sunday. From my many years of working for Corrections Corporation of America it would seem highly likely that only around 30-40 staff member would be on duty for second shift on a Sunday. So based on media reports it sounds like every CCA employee was either taken hostage or in no sort of position to deal with what was happening.

Now these CCA employees would be scattered at posts all over the facility. Keeping this in mind one can only wonder how twenty-five employees could be taken hostage so quickly. Almost all CCA facilities are based on the same floor plan or have a very similar layout. The design of the typical CCA prisons includes various "crash gates" or movable metal barriers spread through out them. These security measures are meant to break the prison up into smaller more manageable areas. This is intended to prevent problems from quickly spreading from one part a facility to another. One of the lax security measures under Vance Laughlin at the Stewart Detention Center was that these crash gates were frequently left open on weekends. This was done to speed up employee movement from one part of the facility to another. This blog can not help but wonder if this could of been a factor in what happened at Natchez. It just seems very odd that the entire facility was taken over so quickly. If pod controls inside housing areas were compromised then the facilities master control should of still been able to of contained the riots to the housing units or recreation yards by ensuring that these barriers cut off movement. These crash gates are visible through cameras and also equipped with audio devices so it's not likely that the Corrections Corporation of America employees in control rooms did not know what was happening.

What happened here should never of happened. However in the aftermath of this horrible event this facility is going to be put under a microscope by both the news media and several government agencies seeking answers. So far it appears that Corrections Corporation of America is trying to place the blame on gang leaders having a power struggle over control of the facility. While some prisoners have claimed that it happened due to anger over inadequate medical care, food, and alleged physical abuse by CCA employees. None of these allegations by prisoners could justify what happened here. However if these allegations are true then it would at least explain the sequence of events that led into this riot. While it's possible that the gang activity allegation could be true after reading the various media reports (if they are accurate) it is beginning to sound a bit doubtful that this might have been done by rival gangs in a internal prison power struggle. News media reports indicate that nineteen (19) people were treated for injuries during the riot. These same reports state that only three of the injured were prisoners. If in fact it was an internal power struggle among prisoners then one has to seriously wonder why there were not more injuries or even deaths to prisoners by other prisoners. It seems quite obvious that most of the anger and violence done was directed at CCA staff members. It just seems highly illogical that prisoners would assault and take hostage almost every single staff member on duty, gain complete or close to complete control of a facility and then afterward some how decide that they were not mad any more at the other prisoners that they allegedly were locked in some type of prison control situation with that caused this whole deplorable situation to happen.

One can also only help but wonder how so many mops and trash can lids were available to prisoners to use as offensive and defensive weapons. A trained correctional professional knows that these items need to be secured at all times when not in use. Various news media reports also talk about "camp fires" made by prisoners on the recreation yard. This also would be an indicator of problems. Why would wood be on a recreation yard? If it's from tables or bleachers as some has guessed then this would also be a bad sign. A professional outfit probably would have used solid metal outdoor furniture that could be secured with concrete to prevent situations from happening exactly like what did here.

It just seems to this blog writer like what happened here took a lot of planning and coordination by prisoners. The fact that prisoners could contact news media directly through a cell phone also seems troubling and possibly part of a prearranged plan. Prisoners having a cell phone is yet another red flag that leads this writer to wonder whether this facility has a serious contraband situation. News media reports that the prisoners took pictures from inside the facility would seem to firmly establish that the prisoners did in fact have a cellular phone. One can only wonder where it came from. Staff inside CCA facilities are generally not allowed to have phones inside of a facility so it would appear very unlikely that the detainees got it during the riot.

While CCA keeps calling this a "disturbance" it seems obvious to all that it was in fact a very bad riot. While CCA keeps parroting that the public was never in any danger it seems very obvious that this is not a very truthful statement. When the local sheriff tells the local Natchez Democrat newspaper that at 9 P.M. they had "taken back most of the interior," but were still working to gain control of the prison it seems quite obvious that the detainees at least briefly had control of the facility.

The loss of control at the prison and the ensuing situation would also seem to demonstrate a total lack of preparation by CCA for the situation as well as possibly a troubling sign that staff did not know what to do during the incident. The sheriff indicated to the Natchez Democrat that the riot control (was) a "fluid situation. He also stated that "We are working on a plan right now." Prisons are required to have emergency plans and to train staff on them. This training should also have included outside agencies like the sheriffs department. When this riot went down the staff should have immediately pulled out the emergency plans and begun to follow them. The sheriff's answers to the news media could possibly be an indicator that the facility was locked in chaos when a plan should have been developed ahead of time and given guidance to responding agencies.

If I lived anywhere near a CCA facility I would be losing sleep tonight. When you look at the rural location of the facility and the actual response time by outside agencies it seems to show that CCA can not be counted on to deal with large scale prison riots. It seems like this situation could have very easily been even worse. When the actual control of this facility was lost this could have turned into a mass escape or a slaughterhouse with little to no law enforcement standing in there way. A rural sheriffs department is not set-up or equipped to handle a mess like this. One only has to look at the faces of the many scared onlookers who showed up at this facility to see exactly how scared Natchez was on the day that CCA lost control of it's prison in there town. When CCA counts on an emergency response from outside agencies or other CCA facilities that in many cases are hours away would you feel safe living near a CCA prison?

All opinions and allegations expressed here are just that. Please cross check anything you read before forming your own decision.