LEXINGTON — An inmate at the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center managed to get inside a vehicle in the parking lot Wednesday as he held a female staff member hostage at knife point.
Two inmates entered offices near the minimum-security unit of the prison where one of the men grabbed the staff member and threatened to hurt her with a hand-fashioned, sharpened instrument before leading her out of the building and to her vehicle, state Corrections Department spokesman Jerry Massie said.
The woman worked for the prison’s population office, which controls offender movement for the agency, and her vehicle was parked in a small lot just outside the building. Like many minimum-security units across the state, the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center’s minimum-security area does not have a security fence with razor wire and detection devices.
Once the woman was taken hostage, the second inmate fled back to his unit, where he was later apprehended, Massie said. Population office staff followed the armed inmate into the parking lot, urging him to let the woman go. After the inmate entered her vehicle, a correctional officer opened one of the vehicle’s back doors and took the man into custody.
Massie said the female staff member was unharmed, and the ordeal lasted about 20 minutes. The inmate with the weapon is serving time for possessing a firearm after a felony conviction. The other inmate is serving time on drug charges.
The Lexington facility is not unique in that it is dealing with a shortage of correctional officers. The facility is authorized to employ 196 officers, but it has only 98 on staff. Officers and advocates have voiced concerns in recent years that the low officer staffing levels present a safety hazard for prison workers. Right now, only about 60 percent of positions in prisons statewide are filled.
In late December, a female case worker at the Joseph Harp Correctional Center, immediately east of the Lexington center, was assaulted by an inmate. She and one guard were alone in a unit with 160 prisoners.