Inmates light fires amid disturbance at Kansas prison

Two staff members suffered minor injuries and were shaken after a disturbance at a prison in rural Kansas resulted in inmates lighting fires.

The Kansas Organization of State Employees, which represents corrections officers, said a “major riot” occurred at Norton Correctional Facility in a tweet Tuesday evening.

The incident began late Tuesday when inmates managed to light several small fires. With the help of all Norton fire trucks and the entire police department, the facility was able to quell the riot by midnight.

Norton, a small town with a population of less than 3,000, including the prison, is 12 miles (19 kilometers) south of the Nebraska state line and around 320 miles (515 kilometers) west of Kansas City.

As of Friday, Norton housed 848 inmates with another 125 at a satellite unit in Stockton, to the east of the city. These inmates aren’t the most dangerous type, generally listed as “low” to “medium” security threats.

The state of Kansas has been plagued with staffing shortages in its prisons, but Norton Correctional Facility showed one of the better vacancy rates, at 8.7 percent.

But numbers given to The Associated Press on Tuesday show the little prison has been seeing a spike in incidents. The number of disciplinary reports filed on inmates at the Norton prison rose from 226 in July to 396 in August, marking an increase of 75 percent.

The previous high for Norton was 328 in June 2016; last year, the prison averaged 209 a month, compared to 245 per month from January through August of this year.

Gov. Sam Brownback announced last month that Kansas corrections officers would see a pay raise due to the spike in incidents and public perception of understaffing at the state’s correctional facilities.

The department has confirmed three disturbances at the El Dorado facility in May and June, involving inmates who refused to return to their cells, as well as two pairs of inmate-on-inmate fights on July 28 that sent one inmate from each altercation to a hospital with stab wounds.

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