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7 things to remember about the Lucasville prison riot, 25 years later


One of the largest crises in Ohio prison history began on April 11, 1993, when 450 prisoners rioted at the maximum security Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville. The ensuing standoff between rioters and law enforcement lasted 11 days, capturing the nation’s attention.

Here are seven things worth remembering 25 years after the incident:

The violence started early. Five inmates - all believed to be prison "snitches" - were brutally beaten to death in the opening hours of the riot. At least two of them were repeatedly stabbed - one of them at least 22 times - according to results of autopsies. Another inmate, killed in an adjoining cellblock on day three of the riot, was strangled by cords, after paper and plastic were shoved in his mouth.

The prison was built by the father of Ohio’s governor. The Cleveland architect who designed the state’s only maximum security prison was George S. Voinovich, father of the George Voinovich who presided as Ohio’s governor during the incident. 

"My mother reminded me during all of this that my father had questioned the wisdom of building it in the first place," a weary Gov. Voinovich said at the time. "He knew the questions about building a prison in such a rural location." 

Opponents had two major concerns: that it would be too far from urban areas for inmates' relatives to make visits; and the difficulty in hiring minority guards. The 1970 census showed no African-Americans living in Lucasville. The 1990 census shows the same. 

More than 1,000 Ohio National Guard members were activated for the crisis. "We had them sleeping in the hog barn, the sheep barn, the beef barn, that's a fact," said Sgt. 1st Class Ken Leach of Westerville, a Kettering native, at the time. "There are people from all walks of life in the Guard - lawyers, bakers. In the Guard, everybody's the same. The camaraderie is just unbelievable." 

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 Afterward, reporters were allowed into the prison. From one Dayton Daily News report: 

The smell of burnt mattresses still lingers in the corridor leading to L Block. Beyond the iron bars, trash and debris line walls. 

The mess of riot-scarred Southern Ohio Correctional Facility is evident in the corridor, but that doesn't really convey the human tragedy of the 11-day prison siege. 

A large fresh-flower arrangement in the prison's main hallway is a gentle reminder. Sent by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the bouquet is a tribute to corrections officer Robert Vallandingham, one of 10 people to die in the standoff.

Strickland offered expert opinion. Before former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland’s career turned to politics, he worked for six years as a consulting psychologist at the maximum-security prison.

During the riot, Strickland was a United States representative serving Lucasville and offered an intimate look at prison life from the guards’ perspective.

The inmates the guards oversaw were among the state's most dangerous felons - at least 300 of whom had severe psychological disorders.

"The men and women who work at this institution put their lives on the line on a daily basis," Strickland told the media. The inmates are "perhaps some of the most dangerous people in the country."

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Suspicion of tunneling out. On the seventh day of the siege, Ohio National Guard troops moved bulldozers to within 100 yards of the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility after learning inmates might be digging their way out.

Law enforcement officials brought in the bulldozers when sound surveillance equipment detected digging or tunneling. 

Existing tunnels “big enough to drive a truck through” contained the prison's pipes and wiring. To get to the tunnels, a person would have to go through 12 inches of steel-reinforced concrete, Danny Adams, a construction worker who helped build the prison, said at the time. From there the tunnels would lead back to the boiler room. 

"They'd have a long way to dig before they got to safety," he said.

The crisis ended with prisoners’ surrender. Five hostages were released late in the day on April 21, and about 60 inmates still inside the prison came out peacefully. About 360 of the 450 inmates barricaded inside a cellblock since the beginning had walked out by then.

The uprising ended after intense negotiations in which prison officials agreed to review complaints inmates presented during the siege, including religious objections to tuberculosis testing and a federal law that requires integration of prison cells.


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