Groups of inmates beat and kicked three guards and set fires and broke windows at the high-security Virginia State Penitentiary in Richmond last night before tear gas and a "show of force" by guards quelled the two-hour disturbance, state corrections officials reported.

None of the guards was reported seriously injured during the incident, which began about 5 p.m. and caused what corrections department spokesman Wayne Farrar described as considerable damage. No inmates were reported injured.

The disturbance at the 900 inmate maximum- and high-medium-security institution came four days after new restrictions were imposed on inmates' movements after the fatal stabbing of an inmate in his cell on New Year's Day.

Farrar said there was "some anticipation of some tension" at the walled downtown prison yesterday, and that after receiving unspecified information authorities kept 20 guards from an earlier shift on duty last night.

The disturbance began last night as the inmates were returning after dinner from the mess hall building to the two cell buildings. A group estimated from 75 to 150 was still outdoors in a yard area linking the buildings when five or six of them attacked the three guards, Farrar said.

Guard C.L. Johnson, who was knocked down and kicked in the head and body, received cuts and bruises. Johnson and guard Ronald Richards were taken to the Medical College of Virginia where they were treated and later released. Guard Rudy Banks, who was "shaken up a little bit," was still under observation at the hospital early this morning, Farrar said.

Shortly after the attack some of the inmates in the yard broke into a commissary, and took some items, according to Farrar. Some, he said, also "equipped themselves with sticks . . . that potentially could be used as weapons."

While guards tried to control these inmates, officials decided to lock inmates already indoors in their cells, Farrar said. But, he said, about 50 inmates in B building refused to enter the cells, and "became disruptive, . . . broke into several small offices for guards," and set a fire in a barbershop and in the commissary.

After guards fired tear gas at the group of about 50 inmates, approximately 20 of them returned to their cells, while others continued the disruption, and broke windows, apparently to help clear the air, Farrar said.

After what the spokesman described as a "show of force" by guards all the inmates returned to their cells by about 6:30 p.m., and guards began bringing in the inmates from the yard, the spokesman said.

Except for meals, which will be taken in small groups, inmates will be kept in their cells for an indefinite period, Farrar said.