Alaska News

Seward maximum-security prisoners riot, take over housing unit for 9 hours

Dozens of prisoners took over a housing unit at Alaska’s maximum-security prison in Seward on Tuesday night, barricading a door and rioting for nine hours, corrections officials said.

No prisoners or staff were injured, but it took reinforcements from Anchorage and Kenai to quell the melee and regain control.

The disturbance in the “Hotel Mod” housing unit at Spring Creek Correctional Center involved 62 prisoners, who destroyed cameras, plumbing, computer connections and fire suppressant systems and shattered glass, according to the Alaska Department of Corrections. Prison officials estimate the damage at $100,000.

The trouble began at 9 p.m. Tuesday, when prisoners in the mod “barricaded the entry to their housing unit and began destroying property," according to the DOC.

“There was no correctional staff inside the unit at the time the mod was barricaded,” DOC spokeswoman Sarah Gallagher wrote in an email.

Hotel Mod is a general population unit that houses 64 inmates designated close and medium custody — meaning some of the prisoners seen as the most dangerous in the entire state system.

Spring Creek is designed as a series of detached “houses” that each include several contained “mods,” or housing units, with a central guard tower in the middle.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether a correctional officer had left the Hotel Mod as the riot broke out to avoid being taken hostage, or if there hadn’t been a guard stationed inside the unit at all.

Officials told media that the prisoners were protesting an 8 a.m. cell inspection.

After the men began destroying property in the mod, staff locked down the facility and called in “special operations response teams” from Kenai and Anchorage, according to DOC.

The teams are the prison version of a SWAT team: officers specially trained to deal with outbreaks of violence and other major incidents.

Off-duty correctional officers drove to Seward in the middle of the night to help, according to Sgt. Randy McLellan of the Alaska Correctional Officers Association.

By 3 a.m., the special operations response teams had arrived, according to the DOC.

It took three more hours and the use of “non-lethal force” to subdue the rioting prisoners. In the past correctional officers have used pepper spray to quell riots. Restraints and “less lethal munitions” can also be used, Gallagher wrote.

Officials didn’t have “full containment” of the mod until 6 a.m., a full nine hours after prisoners had taken control of the unit, according to the statement.

Members of five known prison gangs were among the rioters but the melee wasn’t an organized gang activity, according to DOC.

“The 1488s, Caucasian Kings, Family Over Everything, USOs and Native Brotherhood were involved in the incident,” Gallagher wrote in an email. “Although these individuals are gang members, this was not a gang related activity."

Those involved could face both internal disciplinary measures and new criminal charges. Some have already been moved to different facilities or segregation units, Gallagher said.

Tuesday’s riot was the latest in a string of disturbances in Alaska prisons.

In August 2017, inmates at a Fairbanks facility broke windows and poured soup on the floor. The inmates surrendered when correctional officers pepper-sprayed them. Four were tried and convicted for rioting and criminal mischief.

In January 2018, a brief riot broke out on the recreation yard at Spring Creek, which houses many Alaska prisoners serving lengthy sentences.

That riot only lasted a few minutes and involved 42 prisoners, officials said at the time. The DOC called that incident “gang related.”