No one was hurt but there was significant destruction when a group of inmates decided to protest plans to move housing units at the Bristol County House of Correction in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, forcing correctional officers out of the unit and to call in backup.
Bristol County Sheriff Paul Heroux said it all began when staff was trying to move inmates around to different housing units, something they do as a suicide prevention tactic. This required moving inmates out of single or double cells and into a group setting.
Heroux said around 17 people decided they did not want to move, and began agitating the larger group of about 80 people in one housing unit around 9:30 a.m. There are no locks on the doors of these units, making the situation potentially dangerous for correctional officers.
"We had a volatile situation where we had as many as 75 or 80 inmates that were agitated and they also did a lot of damage," Heroux said.
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A second housing unit next door, with about 63 inmates, also started to protest, though Heroux said it was much milder.
The groups provided a list of demands, which Heroux said officials took seriously, but could not accommodate. When officials me back with a response, the inmates reportedly tore up the letter.
"They were not really interested in cooperating," Heroux said, noting that some of the problems started when rumors began flying over what the inmates could expect when moved to a different unit. Among those rumors were that there would be less recreational time, less visiting time, and other reduced privileges.
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The sheriff said that while the situation went "sideways" and "past the point of no return," he would not call the situation a riot, because despite the damage, the inmates were not being aggressive toward each other. They are still assessing all the damage, but estimate it will take at least $100,000 to $200,000 to fix it all.
"That's one corrections officer for 40, 50 inmates," said Kevin Flanagan of the Massachusetts Corrections Officers Federated Union. "That's a very volatile, dangerous situation, and we saw it unravel here."
It took hours and a large law enforcement response to get the situation under control Friday. The sheriff expects to see criminal charges come out of the situation.
No inmates or correctional officers were hurt. The people Heroux described as the "ringleaders" have been sent to different facilities to avoid a repeat of the situation. The other inmates were spread out across other housing units.