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Prison Reported Under Control After Inmate Rampage

October 28, 1989

CAMP HILL, Pa. (AP) _ A two-night rampage at a state prison ended Friday with a guard and three inmates seriously injured, five hostages freed and much of the overcrowded institution destroyed or damaged by fire, authorities said.

It also left Pennsylvania corrections officials scrambling to find cells for 960 prisoners from the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill, which was 45 percent over its capacity at 2,600 inmates, according to Attorney General Ernie Preate.

The state prison system as a whole is 48 percent over capacity.

The first 10 buses carrying inmates to other prisons across the state left Friday night from Camp Hill, in a rural area west of Harrisburg.

There were no deaths and no escapes, officials said. More than 100 people were injured, one hospitalized in critical condition, in the battle to take back the medium-security prison.

″It was a lot of waiting, but when we do it, we do it,″ said one state trooper, who declined to give his name.

Five staff members taken hostage were either released by inmates or rescued by police, Corrections Department spokesman Ken Robinson said.

Police stormed a kitchen building with guns firing, wounding one inmate as they began taking back control of the prison Friday morning after fires spewed eye-burning smoke into the early morning darkness, officials said. The officers also used tear gas.

Robinson announced at 9:35 a.m. that officials were ″again in control of the institution,″ nearly 15 hours after inmates somehow freed themselves during a lockdown imposed because of a seven-hour riot Wednesday.

State police in riot gear and wielding shotguns pushed surrendering or captured prisoners to the ground, holding them face-down in the grass of a prison courtyard.

″At one point, all inmates were out of all the cellblocks,″ Robinson said.

The Corrections Department late in the afternoon said 960 inmates from Camp Hill would be moved to five other prisons in the state. The department said inmates were being sent to the Graterford, Mercer, Pittsburgh, Smithfield and Waymart state prisons.

Fourteen of 31 buildings were gutted by fire, Robinson said, including eight modular housing units.

Although officials initally believed eight hostages were taken, the number turned out to be five, Robinson said.

None of the hostages suffered life-threatening injuries, officials said.

Robinson said more than 100 people were injured during the two nights. They included 34 prison employees, 32 inmates and 10 state police or firefighters.

An 18-year-old inmate was in critical condition with a gunshot wound to the upper torso, said Marianne Benjamin, a spokeswoman for Polyclinic Medical Center in Harrisburg.

A 24-year-old inmate was listed in serious condition after at least three hours of surgery for a small-caliber gunshot wound to the abdomen, Milton S. Hershey Medical Center spokesman Steve Bortner said.

A 41-year-old guard who was listed as critical was upgraded to serious condition with multiple stab wounds to the back, Hershey spokeswoman Marybeth Bruchwalski said.

Another inmate was in fair condition at Harrisburg Hospital, also with a gunshot wound, said supervisor Gail Kraus. She said she did not have an age.

Only four hours before violence broke out a second time, Superintendent Robert M. Freeman had said the first night’s problems might have been linked to a decision to prohibit families from bringing food to inmates during extended visits. He also said inmates were upset by a change in the way they received medical care.

″You always expect something like this could happen,″ said Mattie Humphrey, a prison volunteer whose son, Milton, is an inmate serving 10 to 20 years on a weapons offense. ″I think the change in the rule that denied family members to bring prisoners home-prepared food was one of the reasons for the rioting.″

A state trooper, who said he was on duty all night and had been inside the prison, described the complex as ″totally trashed.″

″The cellblocks I was in, two cellblocks, are completely demolished,″ said the trooper, who refused to give his name.

Shortly after dawn, a state police helicopter swooped over the prison, and a trooper using a loudspeaker urged any inmate who wanted to surrender to lie on the ground. One inmate was seen waving a white bed sheet at a window inside and a short time later three more white ″flags″ were seen in more windows.

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