Several Lorton Reformatory inmates escaped from their cells in the prison's central facility and hid on the grounds for several hours yesterday morning before being recaptured, according to sources familiar with the situation. None of the inmates left the prison compound, the sources said.
One inmate who was being returned to his cell and a second inmate, who was mistakenly released from his cell, overpowered two corrections officers late Saturday night and opened other cells, according to the sources.
The cells involved are known as control cells and house a small number of inmates who are held apart from the general prison population. Among those currently housed in the cells are some of the inmates recently displaced from Youth Center No. 1 after explosions there.
A corrections department spokesman confirmed that inmates left cells after a guard was overpowered, but he provided few details. Lorton is operated by the District and located in Fairfax County. John F. Herrity, chairman of the county's board of supervisors, complained last night that in violation of what he said is a commitment, county authorities were not notified of the incident.
Herrity, a frequent critic of the operation of the prison, said he planned to ask for an investigation of the incident.
One source gave this account of the situation: After a fire was set by inmates in the control cell area, the inmates were taken from their cells for medical checkups.
As one was being returned, a corrections officer at the control panel some distance away mistakenly opened the wrong cell, freeing the inmate inside. Acting together, the two inmates overpowered first the escort officer and then the officer operating the control panel.
The inmates unlocked the other cells, and about five inmates fled the control cell area and made their way to other parts of the compound.
Guards scheduled to go off duty at midnight were kept on duty.
Several of the inmates were found beneath a trailer in a motor pool area. One of them climbed to the top of a building. All were recaptured by 5 a.m. All inmates were reported in their cells last night and the prison was described as quiet.
The incident is at least the third at a Lorton facility in recent weeks. More than 100 inmates at Youth Center No. 2 were involved in a Dec. 7 incident that was sparked changes in visiting hours there. The hours were modified after 190 inmates were shifted to that facility from Youth Center No. 1, which had to be evacuated after two explosions there injured two inmates.
That same night a smaller incident occurred at the Occoquan facility, also at Lorton, between inmates already housed there and some who were transferred to the facility in the Youth Center No. 1 evacuation.