Inmates of Deer Ridge Correctional Institution near Madras rebelled overnight Friday in response to smoky conditions and poor ventilation, kicking open the doors in their housing units in what prison officials have called a “protest” and inmates have called a “riot.”
About 10 p.m., approximately 200 inmates broke out of their housing units and remained in a recreation yard outside in violation of orders to return, according to an Oregon Department of Corrections statement Saturday.
All but 12 inmates eventually complied by 2 a.m. Saturday, and no injuries to inmates or staff were reported, said corrections department spokeswoman Jennifer Black.
Problems at Deer Ridge were triggered by the state’s decision to move inmates who were in the path of the wildfires that raged this past week.
On Thursday, as wildfires threatened suburbs south of Portland, the Oregon National Guard evacuated about 1,300 inmates of the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville. Coffee Creek is the state’s only women’s prison, as well as the intake site for the state’s male offenders.
That night around 1,000 female inmates were moved to Deer Ridge, a medium-security facility four miles east of Madras. To make way, all the male Deer Ridge inmates were transferred to an unused minimum security building at the prison, which had been out of use since 2016.
Around midnight Friday, Sharla Brimmer was shocked to get a phone call from her son, Adam Shader, a Deer Ridge inmate.
Brimmer said Deer Ridge inmates had arrived at the old facility Thursday to find it infested with mice and black mold and all the bunks removed.
Deer Ridge inmates tolerated the smoke and poor ventilation until Friday night, when the smoke alarms wouldn’t turn off, Brimmer said. A group of inmates kicked open their cell doors and gathered outside in the recreation yard.
Shader called his mom from the yard’s public phone. He told her the inmates were rioting and to get help. She could hear smoke alarms wailing in the background.
“They couldn’t breathe,” Brimmer said. “It was either take on the guards or kick the doors down.”
Brimmer worked for years in corrections and formerly oversaw the Warm Springs jail.
“The virus is bad enough, but to have to go to a place where mice have been living for four years,” she said. “That’s not a way to live — I don’t care what they did.”
According to a statement by the state corrections officials, the 12 inmates who would not return to their cells were placed in custody and transported to another facility.
State corrections officials said Saturday that mattresses had been brought in and the facility would be cleaned.