Prison Riot Essay Sample

Published: 2022-04-26
Prison Riot Essay Sample
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Penal system
Pages: 3
Wordcount: 814 words
7 min read

New Mexico Prison Riot

The New Mexico prison riot of 2nd to 3rd February 1980 made the bloodiest history in the United States. The uprising commenced after several prisoners overpowered and beaten four guards who were performing the routine inspection of the dormitories. The killings and assaults were selective; targeted inmate informants (Colvin, 1982). The riot left thirty-three inmates dead and many others injured, beaten and raped, while seven prison officers in hostage were stabbed, beaten or sodomized, but none lost a life. Unlocked prison gates and the presence of acetylene torches aided the riots (Bingaman, 1980). Prison officers tried negotiations with the prisoners to calm the situation. The 15 correctional officers did not respond even fifteen minutes after the start of the riots. Thirty-six hours after the beginning of the uprising, around a hundred guardsmen with M-16s and police carrying shotguns paraded in and retook control within a few minutes without firing a single shot. The prison administration then reduced the population of inmates to nearly seven hundred and tightened security and supervision of the inmates.

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Attica prison riot in New York

The Attica prison riot happened in a male maximum prison on September 9, 1971. The riot occurred for four days claiming lives of forty-three people, ten officials, and 33 prisoners, while many others sustained injuries. The violence began when some inmates declined to line up for a penitentiary job, and one prisoner hit a guard who did not retaliate, and the inmate had to face disciplinary. The other inmates, angered by the torture of their inmate attacked many guards gaining access to the prison keys releasing other prisoners (Thompson, 2017). By using tear gas as well as the submachine guns, the police reclaimed control of three cellblocks held by the rebels without loss of life.

The correctional state commander attempted negotiations with the prisoners, but they said they could only listen to Nelson, the New York governor. The governor could not come and sent more than 500 security officers armed with pistols, clubs, and shotguns to take control by force. A helicopter also blanketed the prison yard with tear gas. The police officers fired 3,000 times into the tear gas cloud, killing 29 prisoners and 10 of the captives and wounding 89. Most shootings happened in the initial unselective barrage of gunfire, while shooting or killing of other prisoners occurred after they surrendered. The Attica riot strengthened the idea that prisoners require more aggressive containment and improved prison conditions.

Causes of the riots in the two prisons

In the New Mexico prison, there was increasingly growing violence and disorder. There was a lack of effective leadership, disorganization, fragmentation, inmate violence and political apathy than before. Increasing unrest resulted from; overcrowding, security lapses, poor essential services and food, alleged intrigues by the middle-level officers, a perceived violent "new breed," and a dramatic change in the structure of control and prison inmate social structure thus causing violence (Casaus, 2007). Elimination of the remaining formal incentive, ignorance of administrators to improve prison conditions and the closure of the block that accommodated the violent "new breed" caused the riot.

In the Attica prison, there was evidence of politicization and solidarity. The riot resulted from overcrowding, inadequate medical care, brutal correctional officers, censorship of letters, forced hard labor, and poor living conditions; one shower a week, poor food quality and one roll of tissue paper per month (Thompson, 2017).

How to Prevent the Causes of Riots in Prisons

Changing the architectural design of the jails from communal cells to a plan that enhances direct supervision will reduce prison violence. Provision of rehabilitation programs, improving the staff culture and encouraging proper conduct among guards, inmate profiling and classification would also mitigate riots because officers will identify those with violent behaviors. Training of the prison officers on how to deal with riots, improving the quality of food, medication, and prisoners' freedom is also essential. Overcrowding is a common cause of riots in both prisons. Prisons can send more foreign prisoners back to their home states, release some elderly inmates from Bureau of Penitentiaries custody and reducing sentences for prisoners through credit for their excellent behavior to prevent congestion (Dolovich, 2011). They can also give judges more considerable discretion, and lower sentences for certain crimes like drug trafficking. There were special needs prisoners like the women, elderly, violent, those with mental illnesses, and other that inmates considered snitches which contributed to riots. Special needs prison populations require segregation to prevent riots.


Bingaman, J. (1980). Report of the Attorney General on the February 2 and 3, 1980 Riot at the Penitentiary of New Mexico. Santa Fe: Office of the Attorney General.

Casaus, Phil. "It'd be Criminal to forget the 1980 State Penitentiary Riot." 18 Aug. 2007. 17 Sept. 2008 <>.

Colvin, M. (1982). The 1980 New Mexico Prison Riot. Social Problems, 29(5), 449-463.

Dolovich, S. (2011). Strategic segregation in the modern prison. Am. Crim. L. Rev., 48, 1.

Thompson, H. A. (2017). Blood in the Water: the Attica Prison uprising of 1971 and its legacy. Vintage.

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