MOUNDSVILLE - The 16th annual Mock Prison Riot kicked off Monday morning with state Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, and State Division of Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein welcoming nearly 1,200 participants from 35 states and nine countries.
"This is a rather unique event that allows for the demonstration and evaluation of existing and emerging corrections technology," Kessler said. "It offers a chance for law enforcement and corrections officers to network and learn from various groups and team from around the world.
"This is a tremendous learning opportunity that I believe should be shared by everyone in the law enforcement and corrections fields," he added.
Photo by Jim Cochran
Law enforcement officials from 35 states and nine countries gather inside the former West Virginia Penitentiary for the 16th annual Mock Prison Riot, which got under way Monday in Moundsville.
The event is taking place in the decommissioned West Virginia Penitentiary, which operated from 1876-1995. Kessler noted that toward the end of its life as a prison, the facility saw many instances of riots and escapes. The most notable occurred Jan. 1, 1986, when 20 inmates stormed the mess hall and took several hostages, setting off a two-day riot that is one of the most infamous prison uprisings in recent history.
"It is historic circumstances like these that remind us of the importance to continue training for every possible scenario, and that is why I am committed to ensuring that this world-renowned event continues indefinitely," he said.
This year's event almost didn't happen, as the federal money that for the past 15 years had funded about 90 percent of its cost - between $400,000 and $500,000 annually - was no longer available. Kessler commended Rubenstein and his staff for their efforts to make all the preparation for this year's Mock Riot and thanked Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and state lawmakers for their support and involvement in keeping the event up and running.
Kessler said in the past the state's share of the cost was about $50,000 annually. And although the cost will be $125,000 this year, he said it is a great investment for the state in several ways. He pointed out that West Virginia correctional officers and other state law enforcement agencies will receive excellent training as a result. He also noted that the cost would be much higher if the same number of state correctional officers and law enforcement personnel would go to training sessions in other locations.
"Over the next four days, you will be training under the most realistic conditions possible with the newest, cutting-edge corrections technologies," Kessler added. "Because of your dedication and hard work, we know that our correctional institutions are much safer, secure facilities."
Rubenstein said because the state is totally funding this year's event, some changes were made. The more than 40 vendors taking part were charged a fee for the first time, and the Division of Corrections is providing in-kind services. He also thanked state officials and the Moundsville Economic Development Council, which leases the facility from the DOC, and in the last year purchased air conditioning for the Training Center.