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400 Inmates Fight in Arizona: Top 5 Prison Brawls in History

By Tara MacIsaac
Epoch Times Staff
Created: March 4, 2013 Last Updated: March 6, 2013
Related articles: United States » National News
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400 inmates were involved in a fight at the Arizona State Prison Complex in Tuscon on Sunday night. The cause of the melee is under investigation. In the many prison riots across the country in the past century, the causes have varied from overcrowding to racial tension. 

A file photo of Alcatraz, the island prison, on April 7, 2011 in San Francisco, United States. Alcatraz was the scene of a prison riot in 1946 that left five dead, one of approximately 1,300 prison riots in the country in the 20th century. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A file photo of Alcatraz, the island prison, on April 7, 2011 in San Francisco, United States. Alcatraz was the scene of a prison riot in 1946 that left five dead, one of approximately 1,300 prison riots in the country in the 20th century. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A fight broke out among about 400 inmates at the Arizona State Prison Complex in Tuscon on Sunday night. In the brawl, 17 prisoners and two prison staff members were injured.

The cause of the melee is under investigation; the prison is under lockdown in the meantime. 

About 1,250 prisoners are housed in the Whetstone Unit of the prison where the fight began and was contained from spreading to the other seven units.

According to a Time Magazine article from 2009, approximately 1,300 prison riots broke out across the United States in the 20th century. The causes of prison riots vary from overcrowding, to racial tension and rivalry, to botched escape plans. 

Top 5 Prison Brawls in U.S. History

California Institution for Men
Chino, California
Aug. 8, 2009

An 11-hour riot left more than 250 people hurt and 55 hospitalized. The cause was chalked up to overcrowding. The prison, designed to hold 2,976 prisoners, held 5,877, according to Time Magazine. 

“You’re talking about hundreds of men moved into triple bunks in what used to be gyms and cafeterias. They’re not even cells. They’re just empty places where we’re shoving people,” Barry Krisberg, president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency in Oakland, Calif., told Time.

Attica Correctional Facility 
Attica, New York
Sept. 9, 1971

To contain the four-day riot, a force of about 1,000 police officers and guards rushed the facility. Altogether, 39 men died—10 hostages and 29 inmates. 

Living conditions were again part of the cause—it is reported that even after the prison was retaken, guards continued to beat prisoners, sparking prison revolts nationwide. 

Governor Nelson Rockefeller had ordered tear gas and open fire on the prisoners to suppress the riot, killing and injuring prisoners not involved in the riot along with the rioters. 

Some were motivated to riot by the death of an African-American activist in another prison. 

Penitentiary of New Mexico
Santa Fe, California 
Feb. 2, 1980

The riot at the Penitentiary of New Mexico that broke out at 1:40 a.m. on Feb. 2, 1980, was marked by a chaos not present in the Attica revolt, according to a University of Colorado paper titled, “The 1980 New Mexico Prison Riot,” by Mark Colvin. 

“Unlike the 1971 inmate revolt at Attica, New York, in which a high degree of inmate organization, solidarity, and political consciousness was evident, the New Mexico riot is notable for the fragmentation, lack of effective leadership, and disorganization apparent among the inmates,” wrote Colvin. 

In the brutal riot, 200 inmates were beaten and raped; at least 90 inmates were treated for injuries or for forced overdoses of prison pharmacy drugs; seven guards were beaten or raped.

Colorado State Penitentiary
Colorado Springs, Colorado 
Oct. 3, 1929

Two prisoners attempted an escape that involved taking several guards hostage, using the guards as human shields to get to the prison gate. Jimmie Pardue and Danny Daniels had smuggled weapons into the prison and paid off a guard at the gate. That guard did not show up for duty on the day of the break, however, dooming their plans to failure. 

Violence erupted during the failed prison break, killing eight guards and five prisoners.

Alcatraz
Alcatraz Island, San Francisco Bay
May 2–4, 1946

Another botched escape plan resulted in the death of three inmates and two guards. Now known as the “Battle of Alcatraz,” the riot began with the use of weapons smuggled onto “The Rock.” Out of the six inmates who attempted the escape, three died along with two guards. The survivors did not fare well: one got an extra 99 years added to his sentence, and the other two were executed at San Quentin State Prison.

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