KANSAS CITY, Mo. — UPDATE:
Early Friday morning, an official leaving Lansing Correctional Facility said everything inside the prison is good and under control. Our 41 Action News crew on scene saw several law enforcement officers leaving the prison overnight. We are still awaiting official word about what happened from the Kansas Department of Corrections.
Prisoners in a medium-security cell block took control of a section of Lansing Correctional Facility on Thursday, damaging offices and trashing part of the state prison.
“They’ve broken everything that could be broken, except the bars because you can’t break the bars,” an inmate told 41 Action News by phone Thursday from inside cell block C at Lansing Correctional Facility. “Windows, microwaves — they’ve trashed the officer’s station where they do their work. The computers are broken. The cameras have been taken down, just like mayhem. ... Somebody just broke a window now.”
Kansas Department of Corrections spokesman Randall Bowman confirmed earlier Thursday that prisoners were out of their cells and damaging offices in cell block C at the state prison.
The cell block holds 124 to 160 inmates, Bowman said.
“Right now, in my cell block, there are at least 100 to 150 inmates going back and forth, breaking stuff,” the inmate, who spoke with 41 Action News on the condition of anonymity, said.
Lansing Correctional Facility confirmed Tuesday that eight inmates and nine staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. Those numbers have risen to 12 inmates and 14 staff members, Bowman said Thursday.
The infected inmates were moved to the infirmary, which is located near cell block C, but that has done little to reduce the tension inside the prison amid calls from the Kansas Federal Public Defender, the ACLU of Kansas and others to release some inmates amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly has promised to work with the Department of Corrections toward a solution, but on a plan to reduce prison populations, which are vulnerable in a pandemic, but details have yet to be announced.
Prison officials were scheduled to pass out masks made by prisoners Thursday throughout the facility, for staff and inmates, in accordance with new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
That’s also when the trouble started.
“The warden came in to bring the face masks,” the inmate said. “In the midst of that, an argument began about showers, why inmates couldn’t take showers. It’s been two days. Someone decided not only were we not going to get showers, we also weren’t going to get face masks until next week.”
Bowman could not confirm what started the unrest: "Today we began distributing cloth masks as next step in our COVID19 response. But the rest of below I cannot confirm, there will be an investigation afterward that will seek to determine what was said, actions, and what happened."
What's clear is that chaos ensued, including throwing papers and setting off fire extinguishers, but uniformed and non-uniformed staff members were able to get out of the cell block without injury.
“No one is hurting anyone, none of the individuals,” the inmate told 41 Action News. “None of the inmates are hurting each other, but they are just breaking stuff because they are angry. ... Because we’re not getting the proper stuff to help with the coronavirus, people decided to act crazy.”
Inmates are being monitored by video cameras and have not been violent, Bowman said.
A Department of Corrections response team is at the facility.