Report Details Cause of Ind. Prison Riot

The Associated Press
Thursday, May 24, 2007; 11:05 PM

INDIANAPOLIS -- Inexperienced guards and too much idle time for prisoners from Arizona contributed to a prison riot last month, a report issued Thursday by the state Department of Correction said. But the responsibility ultimately lies with inmates, investigators found.

There is "no credible evidence to suggest that staff action in any way caused the disturbance," at the privately run prison, the report said.

About 500 prisoners burned mattresses and broke windows at the New Castle Correctional Facility on April 24 in a two-hour disturbance. Eight prisoners and two staff members were injured, none seriously.

Some 25 inmates from Arizona and one from Indiana could face criminal charges, the report said. The recommendations were sent to Henry County Prosecutor Kit Crane, who said he did not expect to decide on charges until next week.

The riot happened six weeks after the first of some 600 Arizona inmates began joining 1,050 Indiana prisoners at the New Castle prison.

The report said that the transfer of inmates happened too quickly, and that the prison did not have staff trained to handle the influx. The side of the prison occupied by Arizona inmates had never been used or staffed before.

The transferred inmates also weren't adequately informed of the differences in policies in Indiana, including that they wouldn't be allowed to smoke, the report said.

"We could have done better, and I could have done better," Indiana prisons Commissioner J. David Donahue said during a news conference.

The transfer of inmates from Arizona remains on hold until officials can implement the report's recommendations, which include better coordination of inmate programs and improved communication to make Arizona inmates more aware of the changes they will face in Indiana. It also suggests transferring inmates over a longer period of time.

Inmates' families had complained about differences in the policies between Arizona and Indiana prisons. The report acknowledged that recreation schedules at New Castle were shorter than those the Arizona inmates were accustomed to, but it said inmates were not routinely deprived of any necessity.

The report recommended that programs and job assignments for inmates be better coordinated to reduce idle time.

In the future, each shift at the prison will be supervised by someone who is the rank of lieutenant or above, officials said. It also said the staff that person oversees must be more experienced with protocols and policy.

Donna Leone Hamm, director of Tempe, Ariz.-based Middle Ground Prison Reform, said that the report was crafted to avoid blaming administrators, and that officials should have anticipated the problems.

"You can't be surprised by these kind of problems when you have too few staff and untrained staff and inmates with too much time on their hands," Hamm said.

The medium-security New Castle prison is run by Boca Raton, Fla.-based GEO Group Inc. A message seeking comment was left with a GEO spokesman.

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