Report pins riot on lockdown, restrictions

The main cause of the fiery riot at Northpoint Training Center near Danville in August was inmate anger over a lockdown and restrictions imposed following a fight, according to a 22-page report released Friday by the state Department of Corrections.

"The riot was a spontaneous and uncoordinated reaction by inmates to the news that their movement would be controlled for security reasons," J. Michael Brown, secretary of Kentucky's Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, said after the report was released.

The report, based on an investigation by a four-person team of current and former corrections employees, said the facility, built as a mental hospital in 1940, "did not provide the level of security necessary to prevent inmates from participating in a destructive disturbance."

Previously, some inmates' families and a corrections officer had said that bad food led to the riot. However, the report said that interviews with inmates determined that while there was a general concern about the quality of food, that was not the primary cause.

Inmates set fires that destroyed six buildings, including those containing the kitchen, canteen, visitation center, medical services, sanitation department and a multipurpose area. Several dorms were heavily damaged, and eight guards and eight inmates were injured.

The riot was quelled by authorities in a matter of hours. Seven hundred of the prison's 1,200 inmates were transferred to other Kentucky facilities. There are now 485 prisoners at the facility.

The lack of a comprehensive surveillance system created blind spots in the dormitories and the prison yard, making it difficult for staff to monitor and control the inmates, the report said.

Inmates were able to breach the weak dormitory exit doors during a lockdown to access the prison yard. The yard did not have interior fencing to prevent inmates from entering secure areas.

On Aug. 18, three days before the riot, a fight occurred between 10 Hispanic inmates and two other inmates, according to the report.

A black inmate and a white inmate stole canteen items from a young Hispanic inmate who had recently transferred to Northpoint.

Other Hispanic inmates defended the younger inmate, and the institution was placed on a modified lockdown in response to the fight, the report said.

That meant the inmates' time in the prison yard was restricted.

Although there were black, white and Hispanic inmates involved in the incident, the vast majority of staff and inmates interviewed did not think race caused the disturbance, the report said.

Investigators interviewed 70 staff members and 120 inmates, Brown said at a news conference Friday.

On Aug. 21, before the riot, Northpoint officials announced that the prison would implement a permanent controlled movement schedule — allowing inmates access to the gym, recreation areas, library and prison yard on a dorm-by-dorm basis — to ensure security while investigating the fight.

Prison officials continued the lockdown after the fight because violence had increased at Northpoint in 2009 and more weapons and drugs were recovered, the report said.

"Many of the inmates believed the modified lockdown was a punishment instead of a method to ensure safety," the report said.

Food 'not the driver'

Earlier this month, a corrections officer at Northpoint told state legislators that dissatisfaction over food provided by Philadelphia-based Aramark caused the riot.

Just before the riot broke out, the report said, several inmates dumped their food trays on the floor. But prison staff did not tell Northpoint administration about the incident until after the riot, the report said.

Department of Corrections Commissioner LaDonna Thompson and Brown said Friday that although staff and inmates have complained about the food, it was not the root cause of the Aug. 21 riot.

"That was not a driver of the riot," Thompson said.

State Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, has filed a bill that would cancel Aramark's $12 million annual contract to provide food for Kentucky's prisons. Yonts said Friday that he had asked state Auditor Crit Luallen to investigate Aramark for possible contract fraud.

"We will not dignify his allegations with a response, particularly in light of today's official findings," said Sarah Jarvis, a spokeswoman for Aramark.

A spokesman for Luallen said Friday that her office had not yet received Yonts' request but would review it before deciding whether to investigate.

Thompson said that it would cost the department a minimum $5 million to take over food services from Aramark, which has a contract to serve food at all 13 of the state's prisons.

She is providing legislators with information about the food. Thompson said Aramark serves a "heart healthy" lunch of low-sodium food. "It does meet all of the nutritional requirements," she said, adding that the food "is a little bland." Inmates are provided salt, pepper and other condiments, Thompson said.

Brown dismissed the complaints about food, saying that gripes about meals are common at all institutions, not just prisons.

Governor reviewed report

The report offered 12 recommendations, including making sure inmates are at the appropriate prison, modernizing communications and assessing security equipment and supervision procedures.

About 150 of 1,200 inmates have been identified as possibly participating in the riot. The Kentucky State Police and local prosecutors are still investigating to determine whether inmates will face charges, Brown said.

An architectural firm was on site Friday, Brown said, although it's still not clear how much the state's insurance policy will pay to rebuild the facility and the cost to make it more secure. Those changes would probably not be covered by insurance, Brown said.

A timeline to rebuild the facility has not yet been set, he said.

The report was completed earlier this week, but it was held for several days while Gov. Steve Beshear reviewed it and made suggestions. "The governor's office asked for more detail in some areas of the report," said Kerri Richardson, a spokeswoman for Beshear.

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