DARTMOUTH, Mass. (WPRI) — More than a dozen inmates at the Bristol County House of Corrections “stirred the pot” Friday morning as officers attempted to move them to different cell blocks.
Bristol County Sheriff Paul Heroux said the inmates were being moved so their cells could be modified. The modifications are part of Heroux’s overarching plan to reduce the risk of inmate suicides.
Heroux explained that in one of the housing units, which contained approximately 80 inmates, 17 “ringleaders” refused to comply. Those ringleaders then riled up their fellow inmates, leading to a six-hour standoff with correctional officers.
“It was a very volatile situation where as many as 80 inmates were agitated,” Heroux said. “Things started going sideways.”
The inmates, most of whom are awaiting trial, provided officers with a list of demands during the standoff, according to Heroux. The demands ranged from lowering canteen prices to having TVs in cells. The inmates also requested improvements to the grievance and appeals process.
“We couldn’t accommodate all of [the demands], but some of them we could,” he said.
In an attempt to deescalate the situation, Heroux sent the inmates a letter in response.
“As soon as they received the letter, they ripped it up and threw it out the window,” Heroux said. “They were not interested in cooperating.”
By Friday afternoon, Heroux said correctional officers had no other choice but to take the housing unit back by force.
“Sometimes it gets to the point of no return,” Heroux explained. “But once we got inside there was virtually no use of force. We showed force, but didn’t use force because the inmates complied.”
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Nearly 200 officers responded to assist because the prison didn’t have enough staff to safely breach the housing unit on their own, according to Heroux.
“We can’t send in fewer security staff than there are inmates,” he said. “We’re asking for trouble if we do that.”
No one was injured. Heroux said he “considers that a win.”
Heroux said when all was said and done, the inmates caused hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of damage.
“They tore some of the cameras off of the ceilings and blocked some of the others,” he explained. “Anything they could get their hands on and break, they did.”
Heroux said the inmates broke several windows, barricaded the entrances with mattresses, and made makeshift weapons by taking the metal bed frames apart.
There was also a standoff in another housing unit, though Heroux said that one was “far more mild.” In fact, he said some of the inmates began cleaning up the mess they made.
“It was bizarre to see that them cleaning up after themselves, but they were,” he said.
The ringleaders in both housing units were separated and transferred to other jails, while the remaining inmates were moved as originally planned. Heroux said the inmates who incited the standoffs will likely face additional charges.
Heroux believes the fact that the cells aren’t locked made it easier for the inmates to overwhelm correctional officers. He said the prison can’t legally lock the doors until toilets are installed in each cell.
Nearly 50% of the prison’s cells don’t have locks, Heroux said, adding that the installation of toilets in every housing unit is already in the works.
“We’re going to put toilets in cells and locks on doors, it just can’t happen fast enough,” Heroux explained. He plans to ask the state for additional funding to do so.
“We’re not asking for anything unreasonable,” he continued. “It’s a safety issue.”