We’re learning more details about an incident that occurred earlier this month at the Kinross Correctional Facility in the eastern Upper Peninsula. The union that represents prison guards there says the state has played down the incident… which the union describes as a full blown riot. But the Department of Corrections disagrees.
Both the Michigan Corrections Organization, which represents the guards at Kinross, and the Department of Corrections, agree that the incident on September 10th began as a protest.
Chris Gautz is a spokesman for the Department of Corrections. He said protests began around 9 AM.
“We had about 400 prisoners that were marching in a peaceful fashion as a form of protest.”
Gautz said prisoners refused to go back into their housing until some of their demands were heard by the warden, particularly about a wage hike.
“The warden met with the individual groups of prisoners and then that afternoon we moved in with our staff to remove those who had instigated those who had instigated the protests.”
Gautz said as they were removing instigators, some of the other prisoners became destructive.
“Other prisoners who saw what was going on chose to take that opportunity to break some things inside their housing units. Part of it was some sinks, some windows that were broken out, and they set a small fire in the day room. I believe they tried to light some trash on fire.”
But, according to Gautz, officers never lost control of the prison.
“At no time did the facility lose control to the prisoners.”
Tom Tylutki is with the Michigan Corrections Organization — the prison guards’ union. He disagrees with Gautz’s assessment.
“The officers were told to act normal, not to engage the prisoners. Basically the administration had said ‘at this point we don’t have control of the prison.”
Tylutki spoke with officers after the incident, and said the Department of Corrections is downplaying the event.
“At a certain point the emergency response teams and gun squads arrived at the prison.”
Tylutki said prisoners became unruly, but officers remained in the housing quarters for two hours until gun squads could arrive. He said there were roughly 2 officers present for every 160 prisoners.
”It was an unbelievable scene in there. They had to circle every unit with a gun squad and then the emergency response team had to go in unit by unit.”
Tylutki said all told, roughly 300 prisoners were removed and taken to higher security prisons following the incident, and one housing unit still cannot be occupied due to damage. He said the fire that broke out was also more serious than the state is making it out to be.
“They also broke into the counselor’s office and threw their records onto this fire. In the unit that had the biggest fire, prisoners were jumping out the windows because they were having trouble breathing. As they jumped out the windows they were apprehended by the members of the gun squad.”
Tylutki said officers who remained in the housing units told him they were afraid for their lives. But luckily, he said neither prisoners or officers reported any major injuries.
Most of the details about what happened on September 10th are not being disputed by either Michigan Corrections Organization or the Department of Corrections. What is being disputed is whether the events constituted a riot, and whether control over the prison was ever lost.
Chris Gautz of the Department of Corrections said the facts are clear.
“The facts are on my side, this was not a riot.”
Tylutki, however, said not calling it a riot is frustrating for officers.
“I don’t know how you can’t classify this as a riot I don’t know if it’s a public relations move by the department of corrections or what it is. I will say this: it has a lot of our members frustrated. Especially the ones that had to deal with this situation. They feel like the department is trying to downplay it and didn’t appreciate their efforts that day.”
Gautz, for his part, said he isn’t trying to minimize what happened.
“This was a dangerous and very serious situation I don’t attempt in any way to minimize that, but our staff did an amazing job of controlling that situation and keeping the facility under their control for the entire day and throughout the weekend.”
It’s not yet clear how much monetary damage occurred during the incident.
Neither the Department of Corrections or the Michigan Corrections Organization are backing down from how they classify the event. What they both do agree on is that without quick action and a strong relationship built between the prisoners and the officers, the outcome could have been far worse.