Robert Howe, a longtime inmate, never has seen a prison as dangerous as the U.S. Penitentiary-Big Sandy in Martin County, Ky., says the Lexington Herald-Leader. The FBI is investigating two stabbing deaths 20 days apart at the prison, which opened in 2003. The closest federal judge in Pikeville, will not hear cases involving inmates there because of security concerns. Said Howe, 34, who is serving an 88-year term on drug charges, “At one point last November, the place had gotten so crazy, so wild with the drugs and the homemade liquor and the gang violence, guys were fighting to get put in the security housing unit — the hole — for their own protection.”
The high-security prison, built for 960 inmates, houses 1,474. Howe said most are members of about 20 ethnically divided gangs whose membership requirements sometimes include murder. “It is overcrowded and understaffed and dangerous,” said Howe, who said he has counted 25 to 30 serious attacks since he arrived from Atlanta in 2004. “I’m surprised it took so long to get the first murder.” A federal prison bureau spokeswoman said that about 350 of Big Sandy’s inmates are from Washington, D.C., which closed its main prison in 2001. The federal prison system was ordered to absorb D.C.’s 7,000 to 8,000 inmates in facilities within 500 miles of the prisoners’ homes. Prison policies prohibit guards from carrying firearms, in case they are overpowered by inmates. That means Big Sandy’s guards, carrying nothing but their car keys and wallets, are left to face some of the nation’s most dangerous criminals.