Hostage Situations in Detention Settings: Planning and Tactical Considerations

By Peak, Kenneth J.; Radli, Eric et al. | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, October 2008 | Go to article overview

Hostage Situations in Detention Settings: Planning and Tactical Considerations


Peak, Kenneth J., Radli, Eric, Pearson, Cecil, Balaam, Darin, The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin


"[Correctional administrators] undoubtedly must take into account the very real threat unrest presents to inmates and officials alike, in addition to the possible harm to inmates. To resolve a disturbance ... we think the question whether the measure taken inflicted unnecessary and wanton pain and suffering ultimately turns on whether force was applied in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline or maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm."

--Whitley v. Albers (1)

At the Morey Unit of the Lewis Prison Complex in Buckeye, Arizona, two inmates took two correctional officers hostage and seized the unit's tower, triggering a 15-day standoff that remains the longest prison hostage situation in this nation's history. (2) Approximately 450 prisoners at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville engaged in a riot, resulting in the deaths of nine inmates and one officer during the 10-day siege. (3) Federal detainees in a Louisiana parish jail held the warden and two guards hostage at knifepoint, demanding a helicopter to escape. (4)

A sheriff's negotiator won the release of three employees before a SWAT team stormed the Bay County Jail in Florida. Inmates had threatened to rape and cut off the body parts of a fourth hostage, a nurse. They had taken over the jail's infirmary, and one was holding a scalpel to the nurse's neck when the SWAT team and armed correctional officers ended the 11-hour standoff. (5)

At the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia, the U.S. Department of State reinstated an accord that permitted the repatriation of about 2,500 Cuban nationals. Three days later, the detainees seized control of the penitentiary, demanding that they not be repatriated. The uprising lasted 11 days and involved more than 100 hostages. (6)

At the Mack Alford Correctional Center in Stringtown, Oklahoma, a riot occurred that lasted 3 days, wherein inmates seized eight hostages and took control of two-thirds of the prison. (7) Also, permanently seared in the annals of corrections rioting are the horrific incidents at the Attica Correctional Facility in New York in 1971 (39 inmates and employees killed) and at the New Mexico State Prison in Santa Fe in 1980 (33 inmates dead). (8)

OVERVIEW OF THE PROBLEM

As seen by these tragic events, jail and prison rioting and hostage taking are potentially explosive and perilous situations from beginning to end. Hostages always are directly in harm's way, and their jeopardy is continuous and uninterrupted until they are released and safely in the hands of authorities. (9) Some inmate-involved riots and hostage situations come as a complete surprise, whereas others flow from a precipitating event or some type of "spark."

Corrections hostage-taking events can involve any individuals--employees, visitors, or prisoners--held against their will by an inmate seeking to escape, gain concessions, or achieve other goals, such as publicizing a particular cause. They can be planned or impulsive acts (10) and can involve one hostage or hundreds. (11)

History

Although hostage situations may seem like a recent phenomenon, history, in fact, is replete with examples. The Romans regularly exchanged hostages with other treaty nations to ensure that each party would fulfill its obligations. Emperor Henry VI captured King Richard Coeur-de-Lion and held him hostage for ransom. Other famous hostages of that era included Joan of Arc and Miguel de Cervantes. During the 17th century, Christian orders were dedicated to the rescue of hostages held as slaves in Islamic countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Pirates, as well as renegade governments, have captured and used hostages to obtain money or goods, and skyjackings have occurred since the early 1930s. (12)

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Following the watershed year for hostage taking of 1972 when Palestinian terrorists took 11 Israeli athletes hostage at the Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, the law enforcement community immediately realized the far-reaching effects of these events. …

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