Inmates in one wing of the Waianuenue housing unit of the Hilo jail set a fire and barricaded doors Tuesday in the fourth outbreak of prisoner unrest at a Hawaii correctional facility in less than a month.

Police and corrections officials said the “riot” was quickly brought under control.

Hawaii County police said in a statement that “there were some reported injures to inmates from the affray, and corrections officers suffered smoke inhalation and respiratory issues from the incident. There are no major injuries being reported at this time.”

Hawaii County Firemen place an inmate on a gurney after inmates caused an affray late Tuesday with a fire and barricade at Hilo’s HCCC correctional center. Photo: Tim Wright

Hawaii County Fire Department personnel place an inmate on a gurney after inmates caused a brawl late Tuesday with a fire and barricade at Hilo’s HCCC correctional center.

Tim Wright/Civil Beat

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Safety said in a statement that the “reported unrest” began in the A-wing of Hawaii Community Correctional Center’s Waianuenue unit at 3:45 p.m.

The incident involved inmates who set a fire and barricaded doors. The Hawaii County Fire Department responded along with county police and state sheriffs who were called to assist, according to the statement from DPS spokeswoman Toni Schwartz.

Emergency response teams that included correctional officers from HCCC and Kulani Correctional Facility used “non-lethal means to subdue inmates, gain compliance and bring order back to the housing unit by 5:30 p.m.,” Schwartz said in a statement.

Inmates and correctional staff are undergoing a full medical evaluation, and damage to the housing unit is still being assessed, she said in a written statement.

Hawaii County guard the perimeter of Hilo’s HCCC after inmates caused an affray late Tuesday with a fire and barricade at Hilo’s main correctional center. Photo: Tim Wright

Hawaii County police guard the perimeter of Hilo’s HCCC after inmates caused a brawl late Tuesday.

Schwartz said there are 25 inmates in that housing wing who will all be questioned to determine what triggered the unrest and who was directly involved. Inmates found culpable will be criminally and administratively charged, she said.

Hawaii County police described the incident as a “riot,” and said it was triggered by a fight of some kind.

“It has not yet been determined the cause of the brawl at the facility and it was not determined how much damage has been done,” police said in a statement. “State personnel are evacuating inmates from the facility so that an assessment can take place to determine the extent of the damage to the facility.”

Police assisted corrections officers in establishing a perimeter around the facility that involved shutting down Waianuenue Avenue and parts of Komohana Street. Those streets remain closed indefinitely while the state investigates the incident, police said.

HCCC has been among the state’s most overcrowded jails for years, so much so that inmates in the Waianuenue unit routinely sleep on the floor of the common areas.

There have been several recent incidents of unrest among Hawaii inmates, including disturbances at the Oahu Community Correctional Center last month and at the Maui Community Correctional Center earlier this month.

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