BUCKEYE - Two state prison guards who were taken hostage when a pair of inmates got into their observation tower were able to give word they were not seriously injured, officials said today.
Negotiations to free them continued, the officials said.
The emergency began Sunday morning in the prison kitchen, when one inmate attacked a guard during breakfast preparations. The inmate then met up with another inmate in the prison yard and the two gained access to the tower.
The two captive guards, one of them a woman, have been allowed to speak with negotiators, prison officials said early Monday.
"We know they are OK," said Cam Hunter, a state Department of Corrections spokeswoman.
"It's positive that the inmates allowed us to talk to the officers. It's assuring for the families, for the correctional officers, for the community."
Hunter also said that despite the length of the negotiations, talks were progressing.
"The conversations have never broken off," she said. "They're back and forth and there is a good rhythm going."
Two other officers and a staff member were injured by the inmates, officials said. Hunter could not confirm the extent of the injuries, but Phoenix Fire Department Communications Supervisor Rebecca Dauer told The Arizona Republic that one person was severely hurt.
All other staff and inmates were accounted for, and the rest of the inmates were locked in their cells, authorities said.
The medium- to high-security Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis, west of Phoenix in Buckeye, houses 4,400 inmates, most convicted of felonies such as manslaughter and aggravated assault.
The towers include three levels, with the upper portion serving as an observation area, she said.
"Certainly it's a concern of ours how the inmates were able to breach that security," Hunter said. Officials say it's too soon to tell if the situation was an escape attempt that went wrong, since no one has been able to go in and investigate.
Joe Masella, president of the Arizona Correctional Peace Officers' Association, said that although he had no details about the situation, negotiators generally try to calm the inmates and "make them realize that they're in a no-win situation."
Masella said prison staff did a good job of ensuring no other disturbances happened after the hostage-taking Sunday.
"It could have been a lot worse," Masella said. "Once these inmates get a taste of blood, so to speak, there's no telling what they can do."
Earlier this month, the prison was the site of two small fires started after an altercation between two inmates spread unrest among 80 prisoners. Three correctional officers suffered minor injuries.
The Corrections Department last dealt with a hostage situation in 1973, when inmates at the prison in Florence killed two prison staff members, Hunter said.