Rash of Prison Riots and Fires

Rash of Prison Riots and Fires

A rash of prison riots, some of them involving set fires which gave fire fighters dangerous work, occurred during April and May, in this country and Canada.

The one which caused the heaviest damage, and to some extent touched off the others, occurred April 21 last in the Southern Michigan Prison, Jackson, Mich., where 2,600 unruly prisoners seized prison guards as hostages, and staged a wild 8-hour riot before they were quelled. During their rampage they set fire to several of the penal institution’s buildings, including the mess hall kitchen. Heavy damage was done by the fires alone.

Prison fire fighters, unable to cope with the situation, summoned the aid of the Jackson Fire Department, which sent apparatus and men to the scene. These forces had to be escorted into the prison grounds under heavy guard, as is shown on the cover illustration of this issue.

In this, as in other prison outbreaks, fire fighters were called both to subdue fires started by rioters, and to help subdue the rioters themselves by use of fire hose streams.

On May 20th, 400 rioting prisoners seized virtual control of Utah’s new State Prison, “Point of Mountain”, 20 miles south of Salt Lake City. Guards were held as hostages here also, but no fires were started. Municipal firemen from Salt Lake and other fire departments, however, aided local firemen to augment the yard’s lighting apparatus, and fire fighting equipment.

On May 4th, hundreds of prisoners in the Bordeaux Jail, Montreal, Canada, battled authorities, including 1,000 policemen and firemen for five hours before they were subdued by tear gas and hose streams. In the melee, the rioters set fire to the chapel, kitchen, the main switchboard and two cell blocks and other installations. It took firemen three hours to bring the fires under control.

The sixth major prison riot took place May 24, when 300 prisoners at the Idaho State Penitentiary. Boise, Idaho, rebelled for more than four hours before a tear gas barrage broke up their riot. The men bad access to 400 gallons of fuel oil, which they used to burn prison facilities.

The fires reportedly would have been far more destructive had it not been for the automatic sprinkler system with which the prison is equipped. The building housing a recreation room, laundry and auto license shop was considerably damaged.

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