An official says as many as 2,800 inmates will be moved to other facilities one day after several hundred prisoners seized control of part of a federal prison in South Texas, causing damage that rendered the prison "uninhabitable," an official said Saturday.
Inmates were participating in a protest that escalated into throwing objects, burning bedding, and destroying bullet-proof tent structures, the release from the Willacy Country District Attorney's Office on Twitter stated.
In addition, correctional officers released a "chemical agent" to disperse the unruly crowd that were ineffective due to wind conditions. The facility then called for back-up from multiple agencies, including the FBI, sending a total of 130 peace officers and air support to help with the protests, the release went on to say.
"The situation is not resolved, though we're moving toward a peaceful resolution," FBI spokesman Erik Vasys said Saturday evening.
It wasn't immediately clear what progress had been made through the negotiations, but Sheriff Larry Spence said there were no hostages involved in the standoff and only minor injuries reported. Spence said the inmates "have pipes they can use as weapons."
Management & Training Corp., the private contractor that operates the center for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, said about 2,000 inmates became disruptive Friday because they're upset with medical services and refused to perform work duties.
MTC spokesman Issa Arnita said in a statement that prisons officials have begun moving the inmates and that the process would continue into next week.
Arnita said prison administrators met with inmates Friday to address their concerns but that the prisoners "breached" their housing units and reached the recreation yard. The Valley Morning Star reports fires were set inside three of the prison's 10 housing units.
U.S. Bureau of Prisons spokesman Ed Ross says in a statement that the Willacy County Correctional Center in Raymondville is now "uninhabitable due to damage caused by the inmate population." Buses and a plane are ready to charter an "undeterminded amount of inmates" to other prisons.
Willacy County Sheriff Larry Spence on Saturday declined to discuss the main points of the negotiations but said there are no hostages involved and only minor injuries reported. The press release said inmates are recieving neccesary medical attention and that a peaceful resolution may take days or weeks to resolve.
Authorities say about 800 to 900 other inmates are not participating in the disturbance. The inmates being held at the facility are described as "low-level" offenders who are primarily immigrants in the U.S. illegally.
"Correctional officers used non-lethal force, tear gas, to attempt to control the unruly offenders," Arnita said in the statement.
No inmate breached two perimeter security fences, and there's no danger to the public, he said.
The large Kevlar tents that make up the facility were described in a 2014 report by the American Civil Liberties Union as not "only foul, cramped and depressing, but also overcrowded."
The report said that inmates reported that their medical concerns were often ignored by staff and that corners were often cut when it came to health care.
Brian McGiverin, a prisoners' rights attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, said that he was not surprised inadequate medical care could ignite a riot. He said medical care is grossly underfunded in prisons, especially in ones run by private contractors.
"It's pretty abysmal with regard to modern standards how people should be treated, pretty much anywhere you go," he said.