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Inmates Still Hold Part of a Cell Block; Federal Lockdown of Prisons

October 21, 1995

GREENVILLE, Ill. (AP) _ Guards were working to take back a cell block and bring inmates fully under control in a prison here today after the Justice Department ordered a lockdown of federal prisons nationwide.

During disturbances in several states, prisoners set fires, threw baseball bats and broke windows.

The sporadic violence, some of it apparently triggered by Congress’ refusal to reduce penalties for crack cocaine convictions, began late Thursday at the federal prison in Talladega, Ala. It spread Friday to those in Memphis, Tenn., Allenwood, Pa., and to the town of Greenville 40 miles east of St. Louis, where guards were still trying to get inmates back to their cells.

``They’ve still got some problems,″ Greenville police Chief John King said early today. ``They don’t have the control that they desire of a particular cell block.″

The mayhem at the medium-security prison in Greenville began when some inmates refused to return to their cells as part of the national lockdown, and took over a housing unit. Some prison employees built a barricade to protect themselves and had to be rescued by a SWAT team, authorities said.

One prison staff member was admitted to the hospital, and at least 13 other people suffered mostly minor injuries. Utlaut Memorial Hospital would not disclose the nature or extent of the prison worker’s injuries.

In Memphis, crews were still dousing what’s left of a series of fires set during a disturbance that at one point had more than 800 inmates roaming unsecured through a recreation yard.

Prison spokeswoman Francine Branch said the melee might have started when a group of inmates began breaking windows. ``We don’t know what kicked it off,″ she said.

The prisoners moved to the recreation yard and were joined by other inmates. During this time, several fires were set in three of the prison’s housing units. At least 50 people were treated for smoke inhalation and other injuries.

In Pennsylvania, about 150 inmates went on an hourlong rampage Friday in a dining hall of a medium-security prison, pulling fire alarms and breaking windows, the prison said in a statement. A staff member was burned when a hot liquid was thrown in her face. Her condition was not available.

Local television and radio stations reported the disturbances may have been linked to the congressional vote not to reduce the penalty for crack cocaine convictions.

Two people who were trapped inside during the trouble Thursday night at the federal prison in Talladega, Ala., also said that was the reason for that disturbance. Thirteen people were injured and inmates caused $1 million in damage by setting fires and smashing windows with baseball bats.

A law enforcement officer elsewhere in the prison at the time also said inmates were upset about the vote. The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said some inmates had been agitated since the Million Man March in Washington on Monday.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson criticized crack sentencing laws at the rally, saying they disproportionately affect blacks.

U.S. Bureau of Prisons spokesman Bill Bechtold wouldn’t comment on whether the vote played a role. Corliss Moragne, spokeswoman for the prison in Talladega, said the investigation was incomplete.

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