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Inmates at Kansas prison take over cell block, damage property

There have been COVID-19 cases involving inmates at the prison, but a cause of the disturbance at Lansing Correctional Facility was not clear.

April 10, 2020

By Phil Helsel - NBC News

A group of inmates at a Kansas prison took over a cell block and began destroying property and set off fire extinguishers in a disturbance that stretched from Thursday afternoon to early Friday, a corrections department spokesman said.

All inmates in the "C" cell house at the Lansing Correctional Facility were secured and accounted for by about 1 a.m., Randy Bowman, executive director of public affairs for the Kansas Department of Corrections, said in an email.

No injuries were reported, but details about how the incident ended were not immediately clear. Officials were expected to provide an update Friday.

As many as 50 inmates were involved initially when the disturbance at the facility northwest of Kansas City began about 3 p.m, Bowman said.

By evening, about 20 inmates were out of their cells, Bowman said in a phone interview Thursday evening. He cautioned then that it was a very rough estimate.

The inmates were "just tearing up anything they can get their hands on in the unit," Bowman said at the time.

The inmates and disturbance were confined to the cell house, and staff monitored the situation via video.

All staff got out of the unit safely and a corrections response team was in place. "If they don't escalate to fires or violence, we’ll wait them out," Bowman said Thursday evening.

The cause of the disturbance at the medium-security housing unit was not clear, and an investigation would be done to determine what prompted it, Bowman said.

COVID-19 cases have been diagnosed among inmates and staff at the prison since last week, and on Saturday, the entire facility was placed on restricted movement, he said.

As of Thursday morning, 14 staff had tested positive and were at home, and 12 inmates had tested positive and have been placed in a medical isolation unit, Bowman said.

One inmate who spoke by phone suggested that concerns over coronavirus and masks were at least part of the reason for the unrest, but the inmate also said there was frustration about not being able to shower.

"They’ve broken everything that could be broken, except the bars because you can't break the bars," the inmate in the cell house, who was not identified, told the station.

The prison is in Lansing, northwest of Kansas City. The cell house has between 120 and 160 inmates, Bowman said. The prison overall has a capacity of 1,906 inmates, according to the department.

Inmates got into some staff offices and threw around papers and other items and broke into containers to reach fire extinguishers, which were discharged, Bowman said, describing it as "lots of property damage."

The restricted movement imposed after the COVID-19 cases did not mean that prisoners were confined to their cells, but they took meals in their housing units and there were changes to recreation procedures to prevent the mixing of large groups, Bowman said.

Wednesday night at a prison in Washington state, there was what was described by officials as a destructive disturbance involving more than 100 inmates that the state corrections department believes was sparked by COVID-19 cases there.