Disturbances broke out at three federal prisons Friday and all such facilities nationwide were put under a lock-down, one day after a riot by Alabama inmates injured 13 people and caused $1 million in damage.
One building was set on fire and at least 20 people were overcome by smoke inhalation in Memphis, Tenn., authorities said.
A melee by 150 inmates in Allenwood, Pa., left a staff member with minor burns and caused minor property damage.
In Greenville, Ill., at least two prison staff members were treated for minor injuries after a disturbance at the federal prison. A Justice Department statement said the problem there began when inmates refused to go back to their cells for the prison lock-down.
A Justice Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the lock-down was ordered as a “normal precaution.” He would not comment further.
Thursday’s riot at the federal prison in Talladega, Ala., was triggered by an “outpouring of anger” over Congress’ refusal to reduce the penalty for crack cocaine convictions, said two people who were trapped inside during the trouble.
Several sections of Talladega Federal Correctional Institution were heavily damaged, including the prison chapel, where Ed Baggett and two other volunteers took refuge from the roving band of more than 100 rioters.
Baggett, who directs the inmate choir, said rioters were unhappy because Congress rejected a U.S. Sentencing Commission recommendation to lower penalties for crack possession and trafficking.
An officer elsewhere in the prison also said inmates were upset about the vote. The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said some inmates had been agitated since the “Million Man March” Monday in Washington.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson criticized crack sentencing laws at the rally, saying they disproportionately affect blacks.
U.S. Bureau of Prisons spokesman Bill Bechtold would not comment Friday on whether the vote played a role. Neither would prison spokeswoman Corliss Moragne.
The disturbance Friday in Allenwood also may have been linked to the congressional vote, local TV and radio stations reported.