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Dispatches from the Inside: Recent gang violence in the CMC could have been avoided

California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation

Richard Gilliam is incarcerated at the California Men's Colony (CMC).

August 14, 2012

Timely Update and Commentary:

At lights-out on Friday, August 10, a dozen Northern Hispanic gang members staged coordinated, preemptive assaults against members of a much larger Southern Hispanic population at the CMC West facility. After the fighting was quelled by stunned prison staff employing batons and pepper spray, more than two dozen combatants had been restrained. Most sustained minor injuries, but three participants were transported to area hospitals suffering from slash wounds and blunt force trauma. All Northern Hispanics were removed from the Echo yard, and although a similar melee erupted on the Fox yard the following morning, Northern Hispanics remained confined to one dormitory there.

A couple of months ago I reported on clashes between these two groups after corrections officials decided to reintegrate Northern Hispanics into the CMC West general population after a months-long absence due to similar clashes between these two groups. I remarked then that corrections officials were placing their desire to maintain an air of omnipotence, over concerns about prisoner safety. A correctional officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity stated: "We're wondering why they (corrections officials) put them there. They had to know what would happen." 

Knowledgeable prisoners warned prison officials that the re-introduction of Northern Hispanics would create a dangerous situation. This unfortunate turn of events could have been avoided if prison officials afforded prisoners some input as to their incarceration. Instead of being treated as stakeholders, prisoners are relegated to the status of errant children that can't possibly understand what's good for them. 

This case highlights the reality that some prisoners had the foresight to realize introducing an antagonistic faction into a hostile environment would result in strife and injury. As I stated previously, if corrections officials had transferred Northern Hispanics to facilities such as San Quentin or CSP Solano, where Southern Hispanics are not housed in the general population, these recent clashes and resulting injuries, as well as the additional costs, would not have occurred. I also believe that the policy decisions that precipitated this and other incidents demonstrate such a callous and deliberate disregard for prisoner safety that the Attorney General's office should open an investigation. I'd like to see prison officials held to account for their actions in a legal inquiry, and to the men that suffered life-long disfigurement because of them.