Inmates at burned prison staged protest in 2007

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comSeptember 2, 2009 

Last month's riot at Northpoint Training Center was at least the second inmate protest at the medium security prison in the past two years.

The other disturbance occurred in October 2007, when 60 to 70 inmates staged a sit-in inside the prison yard to complain about prison food and canteen prices, according to an accreditation report completed in February by the American Correctional Association.

In the Aug. 21 riot, inmates burned and damaged buildings at the Boyle County facility. Several were a total loss. Eight guards and eight inmates received minor injuries.

Since then, some prisoners and their families have contacted the Herald-Leader alleging that the quality and price of prison food and canteen items continues to be a source of unrest at the prison and may have played a role in the riot.

However, Justice Cabinet Spokesperson Jennifer Brislin said a Northpoint official responsible for handling inmate grievances told Brislin she had received no information from inmates that indicate concerns over food service or the canteen led to last month's disturbance.

At Northpoint, "there are nutritional standards and calorie levels that must be met, and there is a certified dietitian who reviews the menus, so inmates are being offered nutritionally balanced meals," Brislin said.

A spokeswoman for Aramark Correctional Services, the private company that operates the prison's food services and canteen, said the company had “no indication” that inmate concerns about food service or high canteen prices had anything to do with the Aug. 21 riot.

“We serve meals that are healthy and nutritious,” said Sarah Jarvis, the spokeswoman. She said the food meets all state and federal standards and that canteen prices have to meet the approval of prison administration.

Incidents that led up to the riot and fire are still under investigation by the state Department of Corrections and State Police.

A report on the cause of the riot may not be complete for weeks, said Brislin, because 700 inmates were transferred to other facilities throughout Kentucky, making conducting interviews difficult, she said.

About 500 of the prison's 1,200 inmates are now living in two dorms.

During the 2007 disturbance, the prison's accreditation report said protesting inmates "quickly dispersed" when security staff "assembled with video cameras" to document who was involved.

Two inmates filed grievances concerning food service and the canteen after the 2007 incident, the report said.

The average meal cost for 2008 was 82 cents, the report said.

Inmates also have access to a canteen to purchase personal and hygiene items, over-the-counter medications, snacks, frozen food and recreational items.

When the accreditation team visited Northpoint in October 2008, a "common theme of complaints was about the quality of food service and the canteen prices," the report said. "The audit team reviewed the canteen prices and believes them to be reasonable."

The audit team also raised concerns about the prison's staffing levels, saying that on one shift they observed, one officer was responsible for four wings of a dormitory.

In the hours after the riot, the union that represents the corrections officers — the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — also said the prison did not have enough correctional officers.

The audit team's report said that corrections officers in one dormitory could not see inmates from their post, which was located between two wings.

"While at this post, the correctional officer is unable to hear, and therefore respond to emergencies on the two second-floor wings," the report said.

Northpoint officials told the audit team they thought staffing and the location of the correctional officers post was sufficient, the report said.

State officials have said 34 officers were working at Northpoint on the night of the riot, more than on a typical Friday.

Reach Valarie Honeycutt Spears at (859) 231-3409 or 1-800-950-6397.

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service