A fear of COVID-19 and a nearly 72-hour lockdown preceded what county officials are calling a riot at a maximum security unit at the Hudson County Jail on Thursday it ended when correctional officers used pepper spray on inmates.
Seven people in the unit said they exhibited symptoms of COVID-19 on Monday, after which everyone housed there was tested for the virus and quarantined in their cells for the rest of the day and all day. from Tuesday, county spokesman Jim Kennelly said.
Some began to refuse food and medicine on Monday, said a source who has a relative held in the unit. Kennelly did not confirm that the food was refused. On Wednesday, inmates were only allowed out of cells to shower and make calls, Kennelly said.
The next morning, family members were told that in-person visits had been canceled for the day, said a source who has a relative held in the unit.
“A member of my family called me at 8 am,” they said. “Everyone was screaming in the background because their family members told them the prison canceled all their in-person visits that day. “
In-person visits were reinstated within minutes, the source said.
The commotion also resulted as inmates learned that their COVID-19 test results had not yet returned, the source said.
Kennelly, however, said all results came back negative on Thursday and that’s when the quarantine ended.
At around 12:33 p.m. Thursday, people housed in the unit attempted to prevent officers from entering and lock down the unit, prison warden Ron Edwards said. They poured soapy water at the unit’s entrances and attempted to close the doors with sheets, according to Edwards.
“The inmates knew and expected Warden Edwards to speak to them on Thursday,” Kennelly said. “When they fastened the doors and poured soapy water on (the) floor, it was not safe for him to enter the apartment.”
An hour-long standoff ensued, almost the entire prison was locked, and after about 45 minutes officers sprayed the prisoners with pepper spray, Edwards said. No one was injured, he added.
All those housed in the maximum security unit are being held in restrictive detention until the investigation is complete, which means they have not left their cells since the incident, Edwards said.
Air conditioning and electricity were temporarily cut off in the prison last week. The maximum security unit has working air conditioning, Kennelly said, but the source with a family member detained there said otherwise.
“The maximum security unit has no working air conditioning, just an air system that has blown hot air all summer,” they said. “Air purifiers and ventilation (systems) are not present. Inmates walk around in sweat all day, those with asthma find it difficult to breathe.