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On October 25, 1989 more than 1,300 inmates at the Camp Hill State Correctional Institution rioted. The rioters took at least 8 hostages, lighting 4 fires and caused millions of dollars in damage. More then 35 staff members, 5 inmates, 1 firefighter and 1 state trooper sustain injuries in the worst uprising in Pennsylvania history.
Inmates returning from an exercise yard in the late afternoon overwhelmed correctional staff and seized hostages. Inmates were reportedly upset about overcrowding and suspended privileges. They set fires, which destroyed more then half of the 31 buildings and took hostages who were not only guards but also other inmates who were not willing to join in the rioting. The riot ended through negotiations and the inmates were confined to their cells. The superintendent informed news and officials that the riot was over. The next day the superintendent met with the inmates to discuss their grievances. Unknown to the superintendent or staff many of the cells which the inmates were confined to were not secure permitting the start of a second riot later that day allowing prisoners to escape and take more then 17 more hostages and injuring 138 officers. About 800 troopers were on the scene during the peak of the riots with hundreds more en route to begin shift changes as the riots continued for a 3 day period. Negotiations were again attempted, but the riot finally ended when state police forcibly entered the compound.
The biggest problem at Camp Hill was that it was originally designed for juveniles but was transitioned to adult offenders with no consideration for the inadequacy of the physical facility or the necessary training. At the time the riots began Camp Hill’s capacity was 1,826 but housed more then 2,600 inmates running at a 142% capacity.
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