Prisoners broke through doors with substandard locks during Northpoint riot

Inmates reached prison yard by breaking through dorms' emergency exits

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comOctober 23, 2009 

FRANKFORT — The locks on some prison doors at Northpoint Training Center near Danville were substandard, allowing inmates to burst through them during an Aug. 21 riot at the Boyle County prison, a state official said Thursday.

After updating a panel of lawmakers about the situation at Northpoint, which was heavily damaged by fires during the riot, Department of Corrections Commissioner LaDonna Thompson told reporters that corrections officials are now surveying door locks at other prisons around the state.

Following the meeting, Department of Corrections spokeswoman Lisa Lamb said inmates were able to break the locks on emergency exit doors at each end of the prison's dorms. Inmates at the medium-security prison are housed in dormitories rather than individual cells.

By breaking through the doors, inmates were able to access the prison yard. The doors were considered fireproof but were not secure enough to prevent the inmates from kicking them in, Lamb said.

"The inmates, however, could not breach the secure crash gates located at the front of each dorm. These gates do have security-grade doors," Lamb said.

Lamb said all damaged doors at Northpoint are being secured and officials are replacing the emergency exit doors with doors described as "security-grade."

Meanwhile, investigative teams have identified numerous inmates who participated in the disturbance, Thompson said. Some will be disciplined within the prison system and others will face criminal charges.

Kentucky State Police are working with the Boyle Commonwealth's Attorney's office on the investigation, she said.

All inmates under investigation are currently housed in segregation units throughout the state prison system. Seven hundred were transferred from Northpoint; 470 remain at the Boyle County facility.

More inmates might be moved to segregation as punishment as the investigation continues, Thompson said.

She declined to speculate on what caused the riot. Potential causes that have been speculated about publicly include substandard food, anger over prison yard restrictions and gang violence.

She said investigators should have a report on the incident completed in early November.

"I've heard lots of reasons why, but I haven't seen it yet from my investigators," Thompson said.

On Thursday, State Sen. Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said it would be unfair of lawmakers to ask questions about the causes of the riot until the report is released.

During her presentation, Thompson said the state has an insurance policy that will cover the cost of restoring Northpoint to its previous state. Exact figures on what the insurance will pay are expected Nov. 1.

Fire destroyed six buildings at Northpoint, including those housing the kitchen, canteen, visitation center, medical services, sanitation department and a multi-purpose area. Several dorms were also heavily damaged.

So far, the state has spent nearly $650,000 on demolishing buildings and $195,000 on restoring food service. A temporary kitchen began operating on Tuesday.

The Northpoint riot — which was thwarted by authorities in a matter of hours — continues to have an impact on jails and prisons throughout the state, Thompson said.

Inmates guilty of relatively minor infractions during the riot will go to segregation units at local jails for 30 or 60 days, she said.

The Lexington-based GRW Engineers, a company that worked on the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex in West Liberty, has been hired to design the new buildings.

Representatives of the National Institute of Corrections, a federal agency, are also consulting on the project.

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

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