Lucasville: the aftermath.

Author:Wilkinson, Reginald A.
Position:Stemming the Violence
 
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Easter Sunday, April 11, 1993, 2:50 p.m.

Approximately 250 inmates were returning to L-Block from recreation yards at the maximum security Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in rural Lucasville. Staff on the yard included two activity therapists, six recreation officers and three correctional officers. As the officer at the entry metal detector began processing inmates into L-Block, he was attacked. Almost simultaneously, inmates assaulted a corridor officer, taking his keys and baton. A silent alarm alerted the control center, and officers began to respond. Inmates rushed to unlock cells and overpower corridor officers. Several officers and an inmate escaped to stairwells and locked themselves in, calling for help on the stairwell telephones. The shift commander led a group of officers to the main L-Block corridor where they engaged in combat with rioting inmates. K- and J-Block officers secured their ranges as inmates in L-Block continued to break into cellblocks, releasing inmates and taking officers hostage. By 3:10 p. m., L-Block was lost to the inmates, and the longest prison siege in U.S. history where lives were lost had begun. Correctional Officer Robert Vallandingham and nine inmates were murdered during the disturbance. Thirteen correctional officers were held hostage--five throughout the entire 11-day ordeal. More than 2,000 people from corrections special teams, the Ohio State Highway Patrol, the Ohio National Guard, FBI and local law enforcement agencies assembled with one goal--to end the siege and bring the remaining hostages out alive.

The losses incurred during the SOCF tragedy were considerable, both in human and financial terms. Pain and anger still smolder beneath the surface calm of SOCF staff as they report to their posts. Inmate tensions mount as a modified lockdown continues. In the small community of Lucasville, frustration is evident in angry debates over such issues as easing the lockdown and enforcing Ohio's death penalty. Former hostages, family members and inmates have filed lawsuits against the state. However, if the department is to move forward, we must learn from our experience and share those lessons with other correctional agencies.

Security

One of the most important changes made after the disturbance was the transformation of L-Block, which the inmates had attempted to destroy. A year after the incident, a renovated L-Block was opened for staff and media inspection. Security upgrades include block control stations with security vestibules, escape hatches, remote control locks, immovable cell fixtures and steel mesh wall reinforcements. The cost of repairing and improving L-Block was nearly $20 million. Upgrades to K- and J-blocks will follow.

Once renovations are completed, inmates in the three blocks will eat, recreate and participate in programs separately. Inmates on the three security tiers will not interact. The new inmate management system, combined with the physical plant upgrades, will render SOCF a true maximum security facility.

The Lucasville riot is probably the most investigated event in penal history. Eleven internal and external committees studied various aspects of the disturbance, resulting in myriad recommendations. Even before the riot's end, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) was committed to determining the cause of the disturbance and preventing a recurrence. A catalog titled, "A Systems Approach to Corrections in Ohio" was developed to track recommendations as they are proposed and implemented.

For years, the DRC sought relief from serious prison crowding. Ohio's prisons are operating at more than 187 percent of capacity. Community corrections initiatives, previously scorned as "day care for criminals," have received increased public approval and funding since the disturbance. The Governor's Select Committee on Corrections, chaired by Simon Dinitz, professor emeritus at Ohio State University, targeted this primary stumbling block in a special report.

In the report's introduction, Dinitz said, "Living in extremely close proximity to a stranger frequently leads to stress, shortened tempers, impatience and what the committee has called a 'diminution of civility.'"

Construction anti funding for thousands of new prison beds have been accelerated, including the addition of a "high-max" prison. This new prison will be in Youngstown and will house Ohio's most dangerous and predatory inmates. Corrections professionals acknowledge that we cannot build our way out of prison crowding. Ohio Gov, George Voinovich...

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