More than 100 inmates at a Washington state prison facility in Monroe, Wash. staged a protest Wednesday, the same day officials announced that six prisoners had tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC).
The incident comes amid mounting national concerns over the safety of prison populations across the country amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The DOC said in a statement on Wednesday that more than 100 incarcerated men “began engaging in a demonstration in the recreation yard” at the Monroe Correctional Complex and that a large “disturbance” ensued. The incident has since been brought “under control,” authorities said.
This is the scene at the Monroe prison where a large disturbance has been reported. Seeing dozens inmates sitting out on the field, some wearing masks. This is the same facility where 6 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19. pic.twitter.com/ZSMIXK355v— Jennifer Lawson (@JenKOMOProducer) April 9, 2020
Fire extinguishers had been set off within two housing units in the minimum security unit, leading to the appearance of smoke from the outside, according to the statement. “All measures to bring individuals into compliance were ignored including verbal directives, pepper (OC) spray and sting balls, which release light, noise, and rubber pellets,” the statement said.
State officials said that no staff or inmates were injured in the protest.
The facility’s minimum security unit houses about 450 male inmates. Two housing units were “fully evacuated” and “the facility is [now] on restricted movement,” the state’s department of corrections said on Wednesday.
Susan Biller, a spokeswoman for Washington State Department of Corrections, said on Thursday morning to TIME that the situation is “under control” and authorities are still “assessing damage.”
The DOC believes the incident was “caused by recent positive test results of COVID-19 among six men within the minimum security unit.” Those men have been transferred from the minimum security unit to the facility’s isolation unit where their health is being monitored, the agency said in a statement.
Five staff members at the Monroe Correctional Complex have also tested positive for COVID-19.
On Thursday, Columbia Legal Services filed an emergency motion with the state Supreme Court, attorney Nick Straley tells TIME, asking for immediate action with regards to the DOC’s “dangerously ineffective” response to the novel coronavirus, as a result of which “people are falling ill.”
The organization argued in the motion that the court should require DOC to test every person who has been held in the minimum security unit at the Monroe Correctional Complex at any point in the last 14 days for COVID-19 and to ensure appropriate screening, isolation and quarantine are carried out. It also called for the “immediate release” those who are in specific risk categories such as being over 50, or with underlying conditions.
The Washington State Department of Corrections did not immediately respond for comment regarding the motion’s specific allegations.
Beyond the six inmates at Monroe, as of Wednesday the Washington State Department of Correction cites one positive COVID-19 case in an inmate housed at a community medical center. The DOC reports that more than 200 inmates across the state have been tested for the novel coronavirus (out of a prison population of approximately 16,200 people). 150 inmates are in isolation and 1,311 were quarantined across the agency’s facilities.