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Mock Prison Disaster Program Discontinued; Mock Prison Riot Training Remains

Mock Prison Disaster Program Discontinued; Mock Prison Riot Training Remains

by Gary Hunter

Practicing for prison riots has been big business in Moundsville, West Virginia for years. The West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville gained notoriety in 1986 when prisoners took control of the facility for 53 hours, holding seventeen employees hostage. Three prisoners were killed.

That same year the state Supreme Court ruled that conditions at Moundsville were unconstitutional. Among other violations, up to three prisoners were being housed in 5’ by 7’ cells. See: Crain v. Bordenkircher, 176 W.Va. 338, 341 (W.Va. 1986). The prison was closed in 1995 and is now used for historical and educational tours.

In 1997, the Office of Law Enforcement Technology Commercialization (OLTEC) saw an opportunity to peddle its high tech security gadgets by staging mock emergency riots and disasters at the Moundsville prison site. By 2000, Moundsville commanded a $1.4 million allocation from Congress, thanks to senator Robert Byrd, and participants in the disaster and riot training programs infused the local economy with over $600,000. Guest speakers and salesmen touted everything from Tasers and night vision goggles to pepper spray rifles.

“It was a soup to nuts operation,” said Marshall County Sheriff John Gruzinskas. “We would identify training we thought was valuable to local police agencies. They would assist in attracting a trainer to this place, and provide a classroom large or small for that training.”

But the recent economic downturn means that the “soup to nuts” operation at Moundsville will no longer be the pork and butter that local citizens had grown to enjoy. In Sept. 2008 the National Corrections and Law Enforcement Training and Technology Center discontinued its mock disaster program at the Moundsville prison, leaving only the mock riot exercise as the town’s money maker.

The mock prison riot takes place each May. Core components of the event include a technology showcase, tactical training demonstrations, free workshops, a skills competition and networking opportunities; the mock prison riot attracts personnel from sheriffs’ offices, police departments, corrections departments and the military.

The 2008 mock riot included demonstrations of the Taser XREP – a wireless stun projective fired from a standard 12-gauge shotgun, which is effective up to 100 feet. The next mock riot training program is scheduled for May 3, 2009.

More about the Moundsville mock prison riot can be found in PLN’s latest anthology, Prison Profiteers: Who Makes Money From Mass Incarceration. For ordering information see the book listings on the last two pages of this issue of PLN.


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