Chaos ensued at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution after 16-single person cells were accidentally opened shortly before 10 a.m. on Friday. Unfortunately, there were no staff in the gallery at the time the doors were opened, delaying the response to the potential crisis.
As reported by Fox News, the 16 prisoners were more than happy to be relieved of their bars, and officials at the prison say they would not return to their cells. Staff eventually attempted to use “chemical agents” of an undisclosed nature to force them back into their cells, but to no avail.
“The corrections emergency response team (CERT) was activated and prepared to enter the gallery; however, the incident resolved with the inmates complying with staff directives,” a statement from the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services read.
During the brief escape, a fire was started in one of the cells, the cause of which is yet to be determined. The Tecumseh Volunteer Fire Department also responded to the prison as a result.
One prisoner was also attacked by “one or more” of his fellow inmates, and seriously injured in the fight. An ambulance was also dispatched to the jail to treat his wounds.
No staff were injured in the break-out, but one person was being treated for possible smoke inhalation by medics.
All inmates were eventually returned to their cells, and the prison confirmed that everyone was accounted for once the smoke cleared.
Nebraska State Patrol has launched an investigation into what caused the doors to open. The prison is run on a computer system, which includes the mechanisms used to operate cell doors. The prison is now running under “modified operations” as the investigation is conducted.
The prison has a troubled past, with a history of riots regularly breaking out. In 2017, two inmates were killed in a major riot that also resulted in a fire, this one in the prison’s courtyard. Other prisoners were seriously injured in the riot. That same housing unit saw another two inmates killed in a fight that broke out in May, 2015, also causing $2 million worth of damage to the facility.
Other riots over the years have also resulted in injuries to staff members at the prison. As a result of the large number of incidents occurring at the prison, lawmakers and other officials have begun to scrutinize Nebraska’s prison system.
Just this year, a number of bills were passed in an effort to address the issue of major overcrowding and understaffing happening in the state’s correctional facilities. The bills have given a July, 2020, deadline to correct the imbalance.