Violent Kansas prison disturbance is just the latest in state’s corrections issues

Norton Correctional Facility
Norton Correctional Facility

After a fiery disturbance at the Norton Correctional Facility in northwestern Kansas late Tuesday night, 100 inmates will be transferred out of the prison.

“This is a security practice to break these guys up,” said Samir Arif, a spokesman for the Kansas Department of Corrections. “Most of them are going to Lansing, but they’ll be spread throughout the state.”

Following the transfers, the number of inmates will decrease to 756. The prison has 196 staff members and 17 vacancies.

Arif said the 100 inmates were chosen because they posed a “security challenge.”

He added that he believed 50 were to be transferred to Lansing Correctional Facility.

An employee at Lansing said some maximum-security inmates are being moved into the medium-security wing “to accommodate for this influx.”

The same group of inmates may be responsible for other recent disturbances at other Kansas prisons, according to the Kansas Organization of State Employees.

The inmates new to Norton were not accustomed to the “strict control” there, according to KOSE Director Robert Choromanski. They were angry that they had been transferred to the northwestern Kansas facility, hours from their families.

Multiple law enforcement agencies and the Norton Fire Department responded to the situation at Norton late Tuesday, Arif said. He added the disturbance was under control by 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, about three hours after it began.

The official KOSE Twitter account called the disturbance a “huge riot.”

“Buildings are burning and some inmates have gotten weapons,” the account tweeted about 11 p.m.

Arif confirmed that firefighters responded to fire in the prison.

“Two minor staff injuries were reported, although no medical attention was required,” Arif said by email. “An investigation into the incident is underway.”

He added: “Department of Corrections officers are trained to deal with these types of situations, and it’s not out of their norm to respond to them.”

The situation at Norton follows weeks of unrest in Kansas’ prisons, which prompted Gov. Sam Brownback to announce a pay raise for prison workers last month to help facilities deal with high staff turnover that has exacerbated safety issues.

(FILE VIDEO-- JULY 13, 2017) Kansas Secretary of Corrections, Joe Norwood, spoke at El Dorado Correctional Facility about an earlier incident that occurred at the prison.

The June 29 disturbance at El Dorado was just one of multiple violent incidents at prisons that have broken out this summer. KDOC initially said no inmates accessed weapons and no violence occurred during the El Dorado incident. However, an emergency log book from the incident indicated violence did occur and at least one inmate had a weapon. In addition, at least one fire was set in the prison during the incident.

A small number of inmates were transferred from El Dorado to Norton before this week’s incident, Arif said.

At the Lansing facility, multiple disturbances have occurred in recent months that the Department of Corrections did not initially report to the public. One of the more serious broke out in early July, when a half-dozen inmates were involved in an altercation. Four inmates suffered stab wounds, one had a punctured lung and two needed outside medical treatment.

Bryan Lowry: 816-234-4077, @BryanLowry3

Max Londberg: 816-234-4378, @MaxLondberg

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