Justice and Public Safety Cabinet
‘Controlled movement’ led to inmate riot at Northpoint, report says
FRANKFORT, Ky – Inmates reacted to the implementation of restrictions in their movement at the Northpoint Training Center in August by setting fires in dorms, destroying property and busting out windows, causing one of the most destructive prison riots in Kentucky history, according to a report released today by the Department of Corrections.
Fires eventually were set and spread through a large part of the prison. In all, six buildings were destroyed in the blaze.
In the week leading up to the riot, officials had put the Northpoint prison on a modified lockdown status while they investigated an inmate fight involving weapons and a large group of inmates that had congregated on the prison yard.
On Aug. 21, Northpoint officials announced that the prison would implement a permanent controlled movement schedule – allowing inmates access to the gym, recreation areas, library and prison yard on a dorm-by-dorm basis – to ensure the security of the inmates and staff while investigating the fight, and recent increased levels of weapons, drugs and violence found at the prison.
There had been no sign of unrest over the controlled movement as late as 6 p.m. the night of the riot, when officials concluded a tour of the facility and discussed the new restrictions with inmates. The report indicates, however, that the first fire alarms sounded at approximately 6:36 p.m.
Interviews indicated some of the inmates viewed the new schedule as “a punishment instead of a method to ensure safety,” according to the report’s findings.
“The riot was a spontaneous and uncoordinated reaction by inmates to the news that their movement would be controlled for security reasons,” Secretary Brown said. “Disturbances of this type are a constant threat to the security of the institution, given the volatile population of a prison. Fortunately, the policies and personnel that we have were quickly activated, and brought the situation under control.”
The report also indicated that the prison – originally built as a mental health institution – “did not provide the level of security necessary to prevent inmates from participating in a destructive disturbance.”
The report noted that dormitory exit doors were fire-rated but not security-grade doors. In addition, the prison yard lacked interior fencing to limit inmate movement, and also lacked a comprehensive surveillance system which would have minimized the issue of blind spots in the dorms and on the prison yard.
“The physical structure of Northpoint, which was not designed to be a prison, along with the open yard, allowed a disturbance caused by a few individuals to quickly escalate into a full-scale riot,” said Corrections Commissioner LaDonna Thompson.
The report offered 12 recommendations in light of the riot, including reviewing the department’s classification system to validate inmate assignment to the proper facility.
Although radios were abundant and functional, the report recommended modernizing communications systems to meet the demands of both daily and emergency operations.
The report also recommended enhancing the number of programs at Northpoint, with additional programs geared toward reentry skills; conducting a critical assessment of the security equipment and supervision procedures; and reviewing the staffing patterns for the open wing dorm-style setting.
The team investigating the incident determined that neither food service nor the canteen operation were primary factors in the riot. The team found that the number of grievances concerning food service was not excessive. The team also concluded that “the canteen pricing at NTC to be a reasonable comparison to local markets,” as required.
The report also noted “the vast majority of the staff and inmates interviewed did not think race was an issue or cause of the disturbance.”
The report praised the “heroic efforts” of the Northpoint staff, Corrections Emergency Response Teams and Department of Corrections in their management of the riot, saying, “Together these men and women neutralized over 1200 angry inmates without loss of life or serious injury.”
A copy of the full report is available at www.justice.ky.gov