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Spate of prison riots raises concerns about safety for staff and inmates
California corrections officials are investigating an unusual spike in prison riots during the last week.
The first riot broke out over a little more than a week ago, at 11 o'clock Saturday morning at Salinas Valley State Prison. Two inmates at the Central Valley facility stabbed another inmate to death with hand-made weapons. On the maximum-security yard, 30 inmates began to attack each other and a riot ensued.
A few days later on Wednesday, at California State Prison-Sacramento - or “New Folsom” - inmates began attacking each other with makeshift knives. The fighting sent 13 inmates to outside hospitals for treatment. Guards also discharged rounds from a mini 14 rifle. One inmate took a bullet but survived.
On Thursday, violence broke out at a third prison in Vacaville. Several disturbances erupted on one yard of California State Prison Solano. Officers there fired warning shots with a mini 14 rifle. That didn’t keep four other fights among 60 inmates from breaking out in other areas of the prison.
“Sometimes these kind of fights are planned, sometimes they’re spontaneous," said Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Terry Thornton. Thornton said the department is investigating the cause of each of the riots. She added that while prison riots are not uncommon, the timing of these is unusual.
“When you have those things happen in a short period of time, it does make you wonder, is there a rise in violence? Is this just a blip? Are these connected?”
Thornton said the Department's found no indication yet that any of these instances are connected, but it's too early to say for certain.
People may wonder why this is happening now, she said, as the prison system has begun to ease chronic crowding. California’s prisons hold 24,000 fewer inmates than a year ago, when a new realignment law started to divert low-level felons who that would have gone to state lockups into county custody. But Thornton noted that realignment mostly eased crowding at low-security prisons in California. Two of the recent riots happened in maximum- security prisons. The are also less crowded than a year ago, but Rebekah Evenson with the nonprofit Prison Law Office said they still hold more people than they should.