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Washington Prisoners Damage Colorado Private Prison

Amajor prisoner uprising rolled through a for-profit prison at Olney Springs, Colorado, for six hours, causing extensive damage. State prison SWAT teams were called in from as far as 200 miles away to regain control of the prison.

The incident took place Friday, March 5, 1999, and was the second serious disturbance to occur at the prison, known as the Crowley County Correctional Facility, since it opened in October, 1998. The prison is operated by Correctional Services Corporation (CSC), based in Sarassota, Florida, which has contracts to operate 36 other local, state and federal lock-ups holding 9,910 prisoners in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

Two days earlier, about 250 Washington state prisoners were shackled and hauled by bus and plane to the Crowley County prison, about 35 miles east of Pueblo, Colorado. Washington Governor Gary Locke approved the out-of-state rent-a-cell plan, calling it an appropriate emergency solution to Washington's overcrowding problem.

The disturbance was sparked at about 1 p.m. in the dining hall, said Richard Marr, deputy warden of the 1,200-bed prison. Marr claimed a Washington prisoner argued with food service staff because he wasn't served a non-meat religious diet. Marr told media the prisoner hit the food service manager in the face with his tray.

Tensions then spilled into the exercise yard where prisoners stuffed their pockets with rocks, said Marr. The Denver Post reported that prisoners seized two cell blocks, smashed everything in sight, flooded cells, tried to set fires, and poured water, oil and soap on the floor to make it slippery.

Marr estimated the damage at $10,000. But Liz McDonough of the Colorado DOC said the private firm will likely be billed for travel and overtime expenses for the 56 CDOC guards who were called in from state prisons in Ordway, Canon City, Pueblo and Limon to quell the uprising and beat the prisoners.

A prison guard's jaw was broken and four prisoners were injured by rubber bullets, according to the Post. Hundreds of prisoners were gassed when poorly-trained CSC guards saturated two cell blocks with what the Post described as a riot-control gas.

As to the cause of the uprising, Marr told the Rocky Mountain News that Washington prisoners were "disgruntled" because they couldn't smoke. "If you're a smoker and go to a nonsmoking facility, it probably bothers you," he said.

But Marr didn't tell reporters that Washington's prisoners had other reasons to be "disgruntled." Several Washington prison officials told PLN that when Washington prisoners arrived at the private prison, in coveralls and thongs, the private prison didn't have enough shoes or underwear to outfit the new arrivals. Additionally, the Washington prisoners were reportedly "disgruntled" about tight handcuffs (cutting into the skin and causing swelling in many cases) that were not removed for hours after arriving at the for-profit prison.

John Suthers, executive director of the Colorado DOC, told the Post that "indications are the staff [of the private prison] was not trained as it could have been."

Washington is paying CSC $51 per prisoner/day to house its overflow prisoners. Washington also paid for the charter flight costs and sent its own staff to oversee the adjustment of the prisoners and to monitor compliance with the contract. Washington officials delayed plans to ship 400 additional prisoners while reviewing deficiencies in how the prison is managed.

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