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Inmates set fires during disturbance at Kansas prison

Inmates set fires during disturbance at Kansas prison
Posted at 11:03 AM, Sep 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-06 12:03:48-04

NORTON, Kan. (AP) — Inmates set small fires and two staff suffered minor injuries during a brief disturbance at a low-security prison in rural northern Kansas, the state Department of Corrections said.

The disturbance at the Norton Correctional Facility started late Tuesday and all of the inmates were secured just after midnight, department spokesman Samir Arif said. The Kansas Organization of State Employees, which represents corrections officers, called the disturbance a "major riot" in a tweet Tuesday evening.

Arif said the employees who were hurt did not require medical attention.

Small fires set by the inmates were been extinguished and the department is investigating what sparked the disturbance at one of the lowest security prisons in the state, he said Wednesday morning.

Norton City Administrator Chad Buckley said all of the town's firetrucks and his entire police department responded to the scene to assist corrections officials. Norton, with a population of less than 3,000 including the prison, is 12 miles (19 kilometers) south of the Nebraska state line and about 320 miles (515 kilometers) west of Kansas City.

As of Friday, Norton housed 848 inmates, with another 125 at a satellite unit in Stockton, to the east. Most of the inmates are either "low" medium-security inmates or minimum-security inmates.

While prisons across the state have been plagued with staffing shortages, Norton has had a relatively low vacancy rate. As of Tuesday, 17 of its 196 uniformed-officer positions were open, or 8.7 percent.

But the number of disciplinary reports on inmates at the Norton prison spiked in August at 396, up 75 percent from the 226 reports in July, according to figures released by the department Tuesday to The Associated Press. The previous peak was 328 reports in June 2016, and last year the prison averaged 209 a month, compared to 245 per month from January through August of this year.

Gov. Sam Brownback announced last month that workers at Kansas state prisons will get pay hikes in the wake of inmate disturbances that have drawn public attention to staff shortages at the facilities. Uniformed officers across the state would receive about a 5 percent raise. Officers at El Dorado Correctional Facility will see raises of about 10 percent.

The department has confirmed three disturbances at the El Dorado facility in May and June involving inmates who refused to return to their cells, as well as two pairs of inmate-on-inmate fights on July 28 that sent one inmate from each altercation to a hospital with stab wounds. Department of Corrections Secretary Joe Norwood has attributed the disturbances to newly arrived inmates who were transferred from other prisons.

All of the prisons struggle with turnover among corrections officers, but the El Dorado prison, east of Wichita, has the highest annual rate at 46 percent, compared with 33 percent for the entire system.