County jail already through yearly overtime budget

The Lawrence County jail on Sunday. The jail is already about $10,000 over its annual budget of $100,000 for overtime. 

A protest that reportedly evolved into a riot June 1 inside a general housing unit of the Lawrence County jail remains under investigation by the district attorney's office. 

District Attorney Joshua Lamancusa asked the county prison board members at their public meeting Wednesday not to discuss details of the incident publicly because of the active investigation, adding that charges are going to be filed in this case and "we have witness statements, and none of this is ripe for public consumption."

Despite earlier reports that it was a peaceful demonstration staged by the inmates, Lamancusa countered that based on his preliminary review of the evidence, "this was not a peaceful protest."

He referred to the incident as one of greater magnitude, commenting that "based upon the preliminary review, the situation was being properly handled by jail personnel, and as things began to escalate, it necessitated calling in outside law enforcement agencies to deal with the riot."

No injuries were reported in the incident.

The prison board meeting was canceled last month. Wednesday was the first public meeting of the board since the inmate demonstration occurred.

Commissioner Loretta Spielvogel, the prison board chairwoman, asked the warden Wednesday to discuss the events of the riot and to present information about the lockdown and the current housing situation of that cell block, when Lamancusa silenced them about the details of the incident.

Warden Brian Covert explained after the meeting  that since June 1,  the cell block, which previously housed general population inmates, has been redesignated as a restricted housing unit where inmates are locked in their cells for 23 hours per day. They are allowed out for one hour of physical exercise in the outside fenced-in yard. Some of the inmates are let outside during the daylight shift and some are allowed out in the afternoon shift, he said. 

He explained that by law, the jail has to provide the inmates that one hour outside per day five days a week.

There are 29 to 30 inmates in that unit currently.

"It will remain a Restricted Housing Unit," Covert added. "Currently, that's where we stand." 

According to past reports, the jail disturbance or riot broke out when the captain ordered the inmates to go into their cells for their daily one-hour lunchtime lockdown, and they refused. They were protesting the fact that the jails computer kiosks were inoperable for them to access the law library and their personal commissary funds, Covert had reported.

About 40 officers from police departments countywide and the county sheriff's office converged on the jail upon receiving a report of a potential riot. The New Castle police were first to arrive and discharged a flash-bang and a gas, believed to be a pepper spray, to gain control of the situation, police chief Bobby Salem had said. All of the inmates returned to their cells after that, he said.

dwachter@ncnewsonline.com

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Debbie's been a journalist at the New Castle News since 1978, and covers county government, police and fire, New Castle schools, environment and various other realms. She also writes features, takes photos and video and copy edits.

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