This week's disturbance at Spring Creek Correctional Center in Seward was sparked by inmates upset over a directive to make their beds and clean their rooms, a top Department of Corrections official said Thursday.
The acting superintendent for the Spring Creek, Dean Marshall, had sent out a memo saying the inmates in the segregation unit needed to participate in the morning inspection, said Bryan Brandenburg, director of institutions.
"They took offense to that. They are our most disruptive inmates. They took that as a challenge they were not going to comply," he said. "They were like a kid throwing a tantrum."
The disturbance began about 11 p.m. Monday and involved 14 inmates yelling, breaking porcelain toilets and sinks, and flooding their individual cells. In a few cases, they broke out the narrow windows in their cell door, Brandenburg said. It ended around 8 a.m.
Inmates were locked in separate cells and so were hurting only themselves -- and prison property, Brandenburg said.
Just one officer was on duty for the 32-man unit, and he was in another area assisting with showers when the ruckus began, Brandenburg said. By the time he got back and saw the flooding, the inmates were out of control.
"I didn't want to put staff in there until they were done," Brandenburg said. "We waited until they got tired and worn out."
With the night shift held over and the day shift on duty, enough officers were brought into the unit for a show of force. The inmates were moved one by one in ankle chains and handcuffs from their wrecked cells to another segregation unit, he said. One was pepper sprayed for not cooperating, then fell into the line. No one else resisted, Brandenburg said.
The department earlier said that no one was hurt. Brandenburg said six inmates suffered cuts and scrapes and were treated by the prison medical staff. None were taken to the hospital.
The Alaska Correctional Officers Association said chronic understaffing allowed the disturbance to happen. Brandenburg said the prison is properly staffed and that waiting the disturbance out was an appropriate response.
Spring Creek, Alaska's only maximum security prison, currently houses 315 inmates but has space for hundreds more now that Goose Creek Correctional Center has opened and some prisoners were moved there. Spring Creek now is being reconfigured for about 600 inmates, and the department is interviewing applicants for 30 open correctional officer jobs there. It currently has a security staff of about 100 split between various shifts.
Inmates in this level of segregation are kept locked in cells 23 hours a day and typically have assaulted or strong-armed other inmates.
The disruptive inmates were moved into the area only a week ago. The area had been used for general prison population. The department thought the prison-grade porcelain toilets there would be adequate for the newly converted segregation area.
"Obviously, I'm wrong," Brandenburg said. "We're going to put metal toilets in there."
Reach Lisa Demer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4390.
By LISA DEMER