October 22, 1995 in Nation/World

Prisoners Confined To Their Cells

David Johnston New York Times

The federal authorities confined thousands of inmates to their cells at the country’s 70 low-, medium- and high-security penal institutions Saturday after prisoner uprisings at four institutions in different states left dozens of inmates and staff members hurt and caused millions of dollars in property damage, government officials said Saturday.

The uprisings at institutions in Alabama, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Tennessee were the most extensive in the federal system in years. Inmates set fire to mattresses, broke windows, threw chairs and hurled baseball bats in outbursts that seemed to ignite spontaneously at each of the four institutions.

Law-enforcement officials said Saturday they had not found evidence that the disturbances were planned or coordinated, but they also said some inmates might have been inspired by news reports about incidents at other institutions.

Administration officials said Saturday that the latest violence appeared to be linked to the 332-to-83 vote in the House on Wednesday night rejecting a proposal by the Federal Sentencing Commission to erase the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between possession of cocaine powder and crack cocaine.

In a statement, the Bureau of Prisons said that it ordered on Friday night tighter security at all but its 14 minimum-security institutions. The order means that prisoners, many of whom are allowed to leave their cells during the day, would be confined under guard.

The prison authorities said they had restored order at the four institutions and that no one had been killed or had escaped. But the officials appeared to be girding for the possibility of further unrest and said the harsher security would remain in effect for a indefinite period.

“Until this period of unrest has been resolved, this precaution was believed to be necessary in the interest of public safety, and to insure the safety of staff and inmates,” the statement by the Bureau of Prisons said.

Other law-enforcement officials said Saturday that they did not know precisely what had caused the disturbance, which began on Thursday with a cafeteria fight among some of the 1,099 inmates at the Talledega federal prison in Alabama.

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