400 Inmates Fight: Prison Watchdog Groups Speak Out

Reasons behind prison riots

By Tara MacIsaac
Epoch Times Staff
Created: March 4, 2013 Last Updated: March 4, 2013
Related articles: United States » National News
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A fight involving 400 inmates at the Arizona State Prison Complex in Tuscon on Sunday night left 17 prisoners and two staff members injured. Prisoners’ rights advocates spoke out against some conditions in Arizona prisons before the incident, but the reasons behind the brawl are still unclear. 

A file photo of a correctional facility in Phoenix, Arizona in 1999. A fight took place involving 400 inmates in a minimum security unit at an Arizona prison in Tuscon on Sunday. (Mike Fiala/AFP/Getty Images)

A file photo of a correctional facility in Phoenix, Arizona in 1999. A fight took place involving 400 inmates in a minimum security unit at an Arizona prison in Tuscon on Sunday. (Mike Fiala/AFP/Getty Images)

A fight involving 400 inmates at the Arizona State Prison Complex in Tuscon on Sunday night left 17 prisoners and two staff members injured. 

The reasons behind the brawl are still unclear and an investigation is underway. 

Peggy Plews, a blogger on “Arizona Prison Watch,” was puzzled by the riot, which took place in the minimum security Whetstone Unit of the prison.

“It troubles me this happened on a minimum security yard—the politics aren’t supposed to be so bad there,” wrote Plews. “I hardly ever get distress letters from guys fleeing the violence or racism on that yard.”

She called on the public fill her in on any news from inmates in that unit. 

I hardly ever get distress letters from guys fleeing the violence or racism on that yard.

On Friday, Feb. 22, Channel 12 News KPNX in Phoenix, Arizona, reported on a video that recently surfaced showing the death of Arizona State Prison inmate Tony Lester. The video, allegedly suppressed by the state corrections department for two years, shows Lester bleeding to death from self-inflicted wounds as guards stand by and fail to provide assistance, according to local publication the Tuscon Citizen. 

Former Arizona Department of Corrections Warden Carl Toersbijns is now an outspoken advocate for prisoners’ rights. 

In a letter to Arizona House minority leader Chad Campbell published Friday, March 1, Toersbijns wrote of Lester’s case: “This is why Arizona prisons will soon fail and explode into a revolution that will result in personal harm or death, destruction of state property, and jeopardize the safety of all those communities wherein these prisons are located.”

Historically, overcrowding has been a factor in causing prison riots. That does not seem to be the case in the Arizona prison: According to statistics on the prison’s website, the Tuscon facility has beds for 5,150 inmates, and a current population of 5,034 inmates.

In a 2008 paper titled, “Collective Behavior and the Factors That Cause Prison Riots,” Julie Kristen Pate of Maryville College noted that prison riots happen when prisoners “feel that the benefits of rioting outweigh the consequences.”

Following the 1971 riot at Attica Correctional Facility in New York, prisoner conditions temporarily worsened, but then significantly improved. Governor Nelson Rockefeller allocated an additional $12 million for the Department of Correctional Services to upgrade state prisons six months after the riot. 

Personnel training improved, as did general living conditions at the prison. 

Similar improvements followed the 1980 riot at the New Mexico State Penitentiary and the 2002 riot at Folsom Prison in California.

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  • Carl Toersbijns

    The public, the press and politicians misunderstand the word “overcrowded” and fail to grasp the concept when the prison population exceeds the staff’s ability to control its movements, e.g.the ratio of staff vs inmate has been diminished that results in an excessive body count of prisoners versus staff’s ability to supervise them properly.. Its not always about bed space but rather the dynamics that run a yard e..g. competence of admin, security staffing patterns, inmate programs ,idleness, drugs, gangs, violence and many more factors we all knnow exist and that can spark a riot.,. Wait till the CCTV goes out and see what happens.. Don’t be so guillible to think its about numbers….= its about the ability to manage the population and keep safe and secure environment for all

  • Carl Toersbijns

    In other words – overcrowded = outnumbered and being outnumbered gives the criminal the upper hand to do at will whatever is their agenda until sufficient resources can be gathered to quell the problem or intervene and restore order – the danger is the staff is at risk when out of control and those inmates choosing not to be involved suffer from the mass reaction with the sufficient force used to put any disturbance down.. This is the cause and effect cycle in all reality..and jeopardizes public safety at its fullest.

  • Carl Toersbijns

    Recent racial unrest inside Arizona prisons have been brewing heavily since a new direction came about with the appointment of a new director in 2009. It is with reasonable suspicions that the reason for this racial unrest is because of environmental decision making by those in power to decide the fate of over 40,000 prisoners housed inside Arizona prisons This explanation will cover three main areas of decision making influencesthat might apply to the recent behaviors. They are: geographical equity,procedural equity and social equity, The dynamics are fluid and much focus must be on these elements to carryout its purpose of how the decision making instruments play into these events and events of the past. First thing we need to do is to look at the “geographical equity” where the racial composition of their executive hierarchy and decide whether or not it is culturally balanced or not. In other words what is the mentality or attitude of the culture inside Arizona and how does it impact decision making from the top end of the control continuum. It is suggested that the“geographical equity” inside Arizona is much different than many other states including neighboring states such as New Mexico and California. This racial and geographical influence has impacted community cultural thinking and behaviors most negatively and is often in conflict with the minorities housed inside their local prisons. There is no doubt this creates tension between staff and prisoners daily and will eventually create a level of resistance or rebellion in some form or another. When the top executives are out of touch with the bottom of the pyramid, then there are disconcerting ideas and attitudes that prevail between staff and prisoners making the environment very volatile. Look at the race of the director, the deputy directors, the regional directors and the wardens. You will see a definite pattern of white supremacy numbers controlling the minority races living inside Arizona. Their power of control and influence is based on draconic practices from the past and now creating conflict with new generations of prisoners that are much different than those of ten or twenty years ago. These Caucasians in control will suggest an unequal racially impacted “environmental protection” from abuse or harmful behaviors and acts for those of color thereby it is reasonable they will be treated different than others. It’s a human trait to do so and Arizona [government leaders] has publicly announced their status on immigration and human [civil] rights. Looking further into this ability to balance the prison environment there is what is known as the “procedural equity” process. This is a major influence in decision making from the top on down. Going around the geographical locations where the prisons are located you will see the larger facilities are dominated by white administrators and thereby controlling the majority of the prison population giving them leverage and in a position of control or impose repeat and severe disciplinary actions that may result in higher custody scores, reject inmate grievances citing no basis for such findings, more frequently imposed placements in administrative segregation, jobparity and general opportunities to work or program within the entire prison population. Simple stated, the power to control belongs to the larger facilities that influence how prisoners are treated and segregated or
    supervised. They are the power structure of the agency and those that can cope
    at those facilities will be reduced and go a lesser controlled environment. Last but not least is what is called the “social equity” factor where there are conflicts with the sociological order related to race, ethnicity, class, culture, customs and traditions, lifestyles and political power in the geographical regions or the state. This influences decides who gets the safe jobs, better housing, exposures to hazards or bio chemical risks etc. and as government, in this case, the prison management team makes these decisions, those prisoners that are poor will be more at risk of abuse and
    neglect than those with stronger social or political ties within the state and the regions they are housed. Therefore, when you put it all together you have formulated a decision making methodology for your own level of “environmental justice” that impacts each race in a different manner or level. This “environmental justice” impacts protection level, prevention of harm, the burden of proof, proof of intent and other factors that play into due process and equality in the manner justice is delivered. Using this criterion to make decision on security, programs and educationalbenefits or programs, those of color are not in a position to attain the full benefit of all privileges and plans offered inside Arizona prisons. Still, even with federal discriminatory laws in place, Arizona prisons still houses their prisoners based on race, ethnicity or color.
    Race is a connector – it provides culture traditions customs and influences decision
    making.The bottom line is simply this – the ADOC has failed tomanage inmate populations – they have for many years now turned the asylum over to the inmates including gangs. This mismanagement creates huge communication gaps and disrespect between all connected in the prison hierarchy. The basis for this disconnection is the difference between the cultural, mental and political agenda between the top and the bottom of the management cycle. The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing for needs to stay safe which equates to gross MISMANAGEMENT OF PRISON if you want a detailed outline visit my facebook and its there… These racial conflicts are occurring because one faction wants to protest and the other doesn’t. They are taking turns depending on what the issue is. Today the agency’s intelligence gathering sources aren’t working and the inmates know just how to pull these things off when there is a shortage of staff on these open yards


    Inmates are animals.If you leave them unattended, they run wild.


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