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Hungry Snyder County Jail inmates refuse to go to cells

By Marcia Moore
The Daily Item
February 10, 2005

SELINSGROVE PAó Police clad in riot gear were called Tuesday night to assist Snyder County Jail corrections officers in dealing with 13 hungry and angry inmates who refused to return to their cells until they received more food.

The prisoners, federal and out-of-county inmates, were in the recreation room Tuesday evening when they became upset that the commissary failed to arrive on time, Warden George Nye said.

When prison staff tried to move them back to their cells, he said, 13 inmates refused to budge.

Nye received a call at home about the incident at 7:30 p.m.

He immediately called in more staff and decided to ask the state police for assistance as well.

About 15 police equipped in full riot gear showed up at the facility at 600 Old Colony Road.

Nye said negotiations with the prisoners began immediately.

The main request from the inmates was for sandwiches, he said.

"They were hungry and angry because they didnít get the commissary," the warden said, referring to food items prisoners are allowed to buy with their own money.

Sandwiches were made and brought in for each protesting inmate.

Afterward, the inmates returned to their cells without injury to anyone involved or damage to the facility, Nye said.

The incident lasted about four hours, he said.

The extra food was a concession the warden was willing to oblige.

"I donít want to get staff hurt. Thatís my priority, even if I have to give a little," he said.

The last thing Nye said heíd want is to rue a decision that ended in tragedy.

"If someone got hurt and the next day it would be that it was all over a lousy sandwich," he said.

All of the inmates, mostly considered high-risk and imprisoned on drug charges, were to be transferred to other facilities Wednesday.

Nye conceded the inmates had received substantial meals before Aramark Food Services took over the kitchen a few months ago and began serving daily meals of 3,000 calories.

The switch is saving the county about $100,000 a year.

"We had a heck of a menu before," Nye said. Inmates "donít get the extras, like ice cream, that they used to get."

Teamsters representative Donnie Deivert said budget cutbacks are putting the corrections officers he represents at risk.

He said the prison has outdated equipment, including gas and mace, and lighting is poor around the facility.

"Itís a facility that needs to be well-maintained," Deivert said.

He added that if the prison was properly manned, there may not have been a need for police assistance Tuesday night.

Nye said the complaints of staff shortages are not well-founded and that the equipment is up-to-date and useful.

"Staff is trained, but we donít have the money and resources to train them monthly or have all brand new equipment," he said. "We have riot jackets, helmets, gas masks and a good supply of gas."

Sheriff Joseph Reigle Jr., who serves as chairman of the prison board, was called to the prison by Nye at about 9 p.m. Tuesday.

Although Reigle was present for a portion of the incident, he declined to comment until the board receives a full report from Nye at the regular prison board meeting this morning.

"I donít want to pre-judge anything," Reigle said.

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