An internal memo from a warden at the Tipton Correctional Center and initial reports about two assaults on corrections officers on Oct. 3 appeared to be in conflict as to whether the prison was on lockdown on that day.
Around 8:30 a.m. Oct. 3, a prisoner punched an officer in the head and was “quickly restrained,” said Karen Pojmann, DOC spokeswoman.
“When a second officer began to clear the yard in response, another prisoner became argumentative and then struck the second officer,” Pojmann said in a statement. “That offender also was immediately restrained. Both officers were seen by medical professionals, and one received stitches for a cut. There were no other injuries.”
After the assaults occurred, the facility was placed on a status of “controlled movement,” which means fewer people are allowed in one place at a time, she said. For instance, yard recreation for inmates is handled in shifts and with smaller groups.
When the assaults were reported to the public Oct. 4, Pojmann said a lockdown had not happened at Tipton.
But an internal memo from Warden Daniel Redington on Oct. 3 stated: “Several major events occur on second shift. Because of the events, the institution was put on a lockdown status and all offenders were sent back to their units for the day.”
The News Tribune received a copy of the memo from a member of the public, and Pojmann confirmed its authenticity.
On Thursday, Pojmann said that the memo was making reference to a third incident on Oct. 3. After two separate assaults happened that morning, a prisoner believed to be in an altered mental status due to drugs or a mental health crisis started to climb a fence separating zones in the facility, she said.
“At that point, a Code 60 was called, which means everybody returns to their housing units to be counted,” Pojmann said. “This was an isolated incident, and no prison workers were assaulted.”
She said there was no connection between the assaults and the man climbing the fence, and no property damage was done to the facility.
“We had three separate incidents, and that can happen at any facility at any time,” Pojmann said. “They had a bad day. The facility is safe, under control, and our staff are very well trained to deal with these incidents.”
When asked why she had not mentioned the third incident earlier, Pojmann said she had only been asked about assaults that occurred that day and the incident with the man on the fence was not considered an assault.
Pojmann said: “This is a minimum-security facility. The prisoners are in housing units, not cells. Honestly, the distinction between controlled movement and lockdown is tiny. For family members who planned to visit loved ones at Tipton that weekend, we made a point of sending out a message to them to reassure them that, despite rumors they might have heard, the facility was not on lockdown at that time and visiting was continuing as usual.”
She said the Tipton prison continues to deal with a “severe” staff shortage, although she could not provide specific numbers.
“Fewer staff means less offenders get to be out in the yard,” she said. “The ability to do the restorative justice programs that can help prisoners gain skills they can use when they get out of prisons also is curtailed. Offenders complained about those being cut when the incidents occurred earlier this year. We have a good economy, and people are taking jobs that pay more and aren’t as stressful as working in a prison.”
Pojmann said the department already has begun working on budget proposals and talking with lawmakers ahead of the next legislative session about the serious need for increased pay for corrections workers.