Sixteen inmates at the crowded Eastern Correctional Institution in Somerset County tried unsuccessfully to climb over a 15-foot fence yesterday, and one corrections officer was injured in the incident.
The 16 inmates were in the recreation yard of the prison's segregation unit about 1 p.m. when they simultaneously rushed the surrounding chain-link fence, said Sgt. Gregory M. Shipley, spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety and Correction.
Correctional officers prevented the prisoners from scaling the fence, but one officer was assaulted by three inmates, Sergeant Shipley said. Officer Michael Cooper was treated at a clinic in Salisbury for a cut lip and neck pain, he said.
Eleven of the 16 inmates returned to their cells voluntarily. The other five refused to leave the yard and were taken to their cells by a team of specially trained officers. No weapons were found among the inmates and the disturbance was over by 1:30 p.m., Sergeant Shipley said.
Had the inmates climbed over the fence, they would have faced 60 yards of open ground and two more 15-foot fences topped by razor-ribbon wire. They also would have come under fire from officers in the towers around the complex.
"We're not able to label it an attempted escape because there were corrections officials surrounding the area. Officials feel that there may be other reasons, and they're examining those possibilities now," Sergeant Shipley said.
ECI houses 2,437 inmates in a facility built for 1,440. Sergeant Shipley said the inmates who tried to climb the fence were probably in single cells.
The inmates who assaulted the officer may face criminal charges. The other inmates face a loss of "good time" credits, which would have shortened their sentences, or additional segregation time.