Riot breaks out at Bannock County Jail; sheriff blames overcrowding

Crime Watch

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Courtesy photo

POCATELLO – A riot broke out at Bannock County Jail after an inmate broke the fire sprinkler in his cell Wednesday.

Sheriff Lorin Nielsen said the riot included 22 to 26 inmates who are held in a maximum security area for disciplinary problems. He said once the fire sprinkler was broken around 8 p.m., 10 cells began to fill with water, and other inmates involved in the riot clogged the toilets and sinks in an attempt to flood their own cells.

The broken fire sprinkler. The water in the fire suppression system sits stagnant for multiple years before being dispersed, which is why it’s brown. | Courtesy Bannock County Sheriff’s Office

The deputy on duty called for backup and all officers in the field were called back to assist the officers already on the cell block. A heavily armed Direct Action Response Team responded to restore order to the jail an hour and a half after the initial call came out. Law enforcement agencies surrounding Bannock County responded to calls during the situation.

“I was very very pleased with the response of my officers, and the other agencies that assisted. I’m proud they took the time and didn’t rush into things, which is what the inmates wanted,” Nielsen said.

He said after the response of backup arrived the inmates saw it was in their best interest to comply and order was restored to the jail around midnight.

The riot stayed contained in the one cell block currently housing 85 inmates. The Bannock County Jail has a capacity of 270 inmates; however, the current population exceeds 350.

“We are critically (at) overcapacity,” Nielsen said.

In a news conference Thursday, he said the overcrowding in the jail factored into the riot. Nielsen said the capacity of jails across the state and especially east Idaho is being pushed to the limits. Some of the jail inmates should actually be in prison, he said.

Post-riot cleanup. | Courtesy Bannock County Sheriff’s Office

The overcrowding has some inmates sleeping on mats placed in recreation areas of the jail.

RELATED: Inmates sleeping in booking area due to overcrowding at Bannock County Jail

“I also think that it’s important that the public understand we still have a jail. The jail is overcrowded. The stress on the inmates is tough and that reflects on the stress of officers that have to take care of this,” Nielsen said.

Names of the inmates involved have not yet been released due to an investigation and additionally charges may be filed against the participants.

Nielsen attributes the training of his deputies is what protected both staff and inmates.

Plans for expansions to the jail have been a part of two bonds previously but has failed to pass. Nielsen said the construction of a new jail expansion or facility would take another three years if passed and approved by the county.

RELATED: Bannock County Jail bond fails by less than one percent

“The time bomb’s still ticking, and we need some help,” he said.

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