LINCOLN — An assault by an inmate at the Nebraska State Penitentiary, in the aftermath of a large altercation, sent two prison employees to the hospital on Tuesday with serious injuries.

The incident began when multiple groups of men started fighting in the prison yard. Chemical agents were deployed to break up the fights. Two inmates were treated for minor cuts that were suspected to have been caused by homemade weapons.

But as inmates were being escorted back into the prison, one slipped out of his restraints and punched a staff member several times in the head, according to a Corrections Department release. A second staff member was also assaulted after coming to assist. Both staff members were treated at a local hospital for their injuries.

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Two housing units at the State Penitentiary remain on modified lockdown pending an investigation of the melee and assaults. Results will be turned over for possible prosecution by the Lancaster County attorney. Inmates might also face prison disciplinary action.

The State Penitentiary houses maximum, medium and minimum security inmates. It held an average of 1,350 inmates last year — the most of any state prison — which is almost twice its design capacity. Besides being overcrowded, the Lincoln prison has also faced shortages of security staff in recent months, and problems keeping contraband such as synthetic marijuana out.

Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

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