Fighting: Three fights have broken out in the North Central Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction in Calico Rock since March 21. Authorities hope new staff and new locks for personal boxes will curb fighting. Photo/submitted
A dispute over coffee March 21 escalated into three fights at the Arkansas Department of Correction's North Central Unit in Calico Rock.
The initial incident involved a white prisoner accusing a black prisoner of stealing his coffee, Department of Correction Spokesman Dina Tyler said. The fight grew to include 12 inmates and divided along racial lines, Tyler said.
Some of the inmates involved stuffed padlocks, which are used to lock prisoners' personal boxes, into socks and used them as weapons, Tyler said. She said three inmates were injured. One required stitches, another had a jaw injury and one inmate suffered a severe eye injury that led to the loss of the eye.
Inmate chatter and gossip turned the first fight into a racial incident in the eyes of some inmates, Tyler said. "The fight started over coffee and the inmates blew it into something that it was not over," Tyler said.
The gossiping led to another fight on March 27 in a different barrack at the prison. Prison staff quickly broke up the fight and there were no serious injuries. Tyler said no weapons were used.
Tyler said the incidents resulted in 49 inmates being transferred to maximum security institutions in the state, the Tucker Unit and East Arkansas Regional Unit. She said prisoners not directly involved, who were viewed as instigators and agitators, were transferred along with the fight participants.
Five black inmates jumped on four white inmates and one hispanic inmate on April 14, Tyler said. She said this time inmates thought they could get transferred to other prisons like previous inmates involved in fights.
"It was not a racial beef. They jumped on inmates different from themselves in hopes of a transfer," she said.
The five inmates were not transferred, Tyler said.
Tyler said the inmates may have wanted a transfer because Calico Rock is farther from home or they might have friends in other prisons.
"Inmates don't get to choose where they are housed. You no longer have the freedom to choose your own address," she said.
Tyler said fighting is not uncommon in Arkansas prisons. "Many use violence to solve their problems, and that is one of the reasons why they're here," she said.
Tyler said that the fights do not always divide along racial lines. She said they divide along geography as well, with inmates from different towns fighting with each other.
She said the Calico Rock facility has been pretty calm and the unit has not been under a lockdown.
In response to the incident the prison has brought in two teams of four people from other facilities to help keep a watch on the prisoners for the time being.
Tyler said the North Central Unit's barracks are two-tier, open-bay barracks, much like soldiers in the military live in. She said 50 inmates live in each barrack and each has a bunk and a box for personal items.
Tyler said the Department of Correction will spend $107,000 across the system to replace the removable locks from the personal boxes. They will be retro-fitted with attached locks that cannot be removed.
The North Central Unit was established in 1990. It is a medium security prison which houses 533 inmates. Arkansas medium security prisons are for prisoners who are not likely to escape and have a record of being able to get along with other prisoners and guards, she said.