A Luzerne County Correctional Facility inmate tried to climb out of a cage in the prison yard, but it’s unclear if he was trying to escape, a prison official said.
The inmate, who was not identified, was housed in the restrictive housing unit, or “RHU,” which is reserved for prisoners caught committing an assault or other serious misbehavior behind bars or high-level state inmates awaiting sentencing.
Inmates in this unit are locked in single cells 23 hours per day with one hour of exercise five days a week.
For outside exercise, the unit has a separate yard equipped with several wire cages that prevent inmates from physically contacting each other, said interim County Correctional Services Division Head James Larson. Each cage is designed to hold one inmate and allows them enough space to do push-ups or stationary exercises, he said.
According to Larson:
The inmate climbed to the top of the wire cage Tuesday afternoon, which is about 15 feet high, around 6 p.m. and snapped two anchors.
Guards were able to get him down before he could climb out through the top of the cage.
“He didn’t get to the roof or outside wall. We’re not even sure he tried to escape. He never breached the perimeter,” Larson said.
The inmate has been hospitalized several times for mental health issues and has been coming in and out of the county prison system for years. During incarceration, he has been charged with several misconducts, including damage of a typewriter used by inmates, Larson said.
He will be charged with destruction of county property. Larson said he also will discuss the specifics with the county District Attorney’s Office to determine if an attempted escape charge is warranted.
“I’ll have to get a legal opinion on that,” Larson said.
About two hours earlier, prison guards were forced to address another incident involving RHU inmates, he said.
The prison bans RHU inmates from covering the window that allows guards to see inside their single-occupancy cells, in part to prevent suicide attempts, he said.
Two inmates refused to comply with three successive orders to remove window coverings, forcing guards to assemble response teams to enter and place these inmates in restraint chairs while both the inmates and their cells were checked, he said.
Larson said one of these inmates has mental health issues, and the other has acted out.
“A lot of times they do this as a way to get attention. This thing happens all the time,” Larson said.
Both inmates will undergo internal misconduct hearings before an independent examiner, he said.
Prison officials have been wrestling with an increase in inmate assaults and fighting — problems that have been blamed on a rise in inmates who are addicted to drugs, battling mental health issues and involved in gangs. The aging facility on Water Street in Wilkes-Barre has been at or over its 505-inmate capacity in recent years.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.