It was empty and quiet between the buildings of the Rockview state prison about noon Tuesday during a time the area would usually be bustling.
“Normally this time of day, we’re running meal lines,” prison Superintendent Steve Glunt said. “There’d be 700 inmates right here.”
Prison staff were conducting a lockdown search of the facility Tuesday. It was the second conducted by state prisons locally in a week’s time. The Benner state prison performed a similar operation last week.
State Department of Corrections policy mandates at least two searches of living and common areas be conducted yearly, a number Rockview exceeds, Glunt said.
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Preplanned lockdowns are tentatively scheduled at the beginning of each year. Days are selected at random, and some lockdowns run for a day, others for two. Only certain personnel — Glunt, Deputy Superintendent Eric Tice and Security Captain Herb Probst — are aware of the dates. Tuesday’s lockdown could extend into Wednesday, Tice said.
A minimum of two corrections officers are required to search a cell. They start by strip-searching each inmate. The inmates are then dressed, handcuffed and led outside the cell for supervision by other employees while the two officers search the cell for contraband.
Bags full of plastic, paper and bottles sat in the center of the aisle of one housing unit Tuesday. For the most part, searches yield benign findings: trash and extra issued items, like linen, Tice said. If a weapon is discovered, the offender is immediately taken to the prison’s restricted housing area and charges are filed administratively, he said.
Additional lockdowns and searches can be called for security reasons or if there is reason to believe contraband is present, Tice said.
Inmates are confined to their cells before and after being searched until the lockdown is over, Glunt said. Most find ways to occupy themselves during searches, he added.
“This is not new to them,” he said. “They know what to expect and go through it a few times a year.”
Not all movement is halted, Glunt said. Parole hearings and meetings with physicians are still conducted. A skeleton crew of the inmate workforce, about 10 percent of the normal staff, are allowed out to perform necessary functions, such as preparing food and laundry.
Besides accomplishing the obvious task of finding contraband, the scheduled searches have other effects. Intelligence is gathered from items found and from conversations with inmates, Tice said. Searches also enable staff to gauge the mood of the population, he said.
Because all staff members are involved, Tice said, it’s also a morale builder.
“It breaks up the normal, everyday routine and everyone works together as one team,” he said.