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Pennsylvania Governor Promises Prisoners in Riot Will Be Punished

October 29, 1989

CAMP HILL, Pa. (AP) _ Gov. Robert P. Casey on Saturday promised to punish inmates who took part in two nights of fiery, bloody rioting at a state prison outside this city and to move quickly to relieve Pennsylvania’s overcrowded prisons.

Hours after the siege ended Friday, a caravan of buses left the prison under heavy State Police guard, taking 507 of its 2,600 inmates to four other state penitentiaries already swelled beyond capacity, officials said.

Hundreds more were expected to be moved to another state prison and a new 800-cell federal penitentiary in northwest Pennsylvania.

Officials also worked to get hundreds of inmates who spent Friday night outdoors in two exercise yards back into damaged cellblocks, Corrections Department spokesman Ken Robinson said. The cells will be searched first, then locked and chained when prisoners are returned, he said.

And in Philadelphia, about 120 inmates at the city’s Holmesburg prison took over a cellblock for nearly five hours Saturday, barricading the entrances with bed frames and setting matresses on fire following an argument with a guard, said city prison Lt. Darryl Anderson.

No hostages were taken and the cellblock was retaken around 8:30 p.m., Anderson said. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

The two-night uprising at Camp Hill, just outside Harrisburg, left at least 133 people injured and almost half of the prison’s buildings destroyed or damaged by fire.

Five hostages were released Friday morning after state police stormed the prison, restoring order after a building-by-building assault. No inmates escaped, officials said.

Casey met for several hours Saturday with Corrections Commissioner David S. Owens Jr., State Police Commissioner Ronald M. Sharpe and other top officials.

The governor said officials still know little about what triggered the two days of violence, or how inmates were able to free themselves Thursday after guards had regained control of the prison following the first night’s riot.

″We must identify and punish those inmates whose criminal acts destroyed property and put innocent lives in danger,″ he said. ″We must promptly craft a plan to replace lost prison-cell capacity at Camp Hill and provide additional cell space throughout our state correctional system on as fast a track as possible.″

Casey said he would appoint an independent commission to study the cause of the disturbance and recommends ways to improve ease prison overcrowding. He also said he would review the need for more corrections officers.

The violence began Wednesday after a prisoner attacked a prison worker, leading to a seven-hour rampage.

Officials regained control of the prison. But by Thursday evening inmates managed to free themselves again, and began a second night of rioting.

Most of the injured were showing improvement in hospitals, officials said.

A 24-year-old prisoner with a gunshot wound to the abdomen and a 41-year- old guard with multiple stab wounds to the back were in fair condition at Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, nursing supervisor Marilyn Shea said. Both had been in serious condition Friday.

An 18-year-old inmate was in stable condition with a gunshot wound to the upper torso at Polyclinic Medical Center, nursing supervisor Dottie Daley said.

A 25-year-old guard who suffered a head injury and smoke inhalation and a prisoner with a gunshot wound to the leg were in fair condition at Harrisburg Hospital, nursing supervisor Miriam Wege said.

The hospital released two guards and three inmates Saturday, she said.

Three inmates and a guard were in satisfactory condition at Holy Spirit Hospital, said nursing supervisor Diann Esser. The guard suffered bruises on his back and throat. One prisoner had a gunshot wound, another had been stabbed in the back and a third had chest pain, the supervisor said.

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