The weekend riot at Chino state prison erupted after two inmates -- a Latino and an African American -- began fighting in a recreation yard, and others, watching from surrounding dormitories, followed suit, clashing along racial lines that have racked the state prison system for decades, prison officials said Sunday.
About 200 inmates took part in the 90-minute riot Saturday morning, out of the more than 1,000 inmates housed in the dorms where the fighting occurred, said prison spokesman Lt. Mark Hargrove.
“We believe it was just a spontaneous thing that occurred after the fight on the yard,” he said. The prison, on 2,500 acres of land abutting the Chino Hills in Riverside County, remained on lockdown Sunday as officials assessed security.
Investigators have no information that the Mexican Mafia prison gang was behind the attack, or that it was meant to precipitate a race war in the prison system, Hargrove said. Wardens across the state were told to monitor activities closely, but only Chino was locked down.
Of the 27 inmates taken to hospitals Saturday, 20 were released back to Chino. The prisoner thought to be the most seriously injured suffered a stab wound, a broken jaw and a laceration to the head, and was recovering in the prison hospital.
Corrections officials said they had cleaned up much of the mess by Sunday. A majority of the windows in the five dorms were shattered, Hargrove said.
“They were throwing shards of glass,” he said.
Guards also discovered that inmates had fashioned six weapons from the glass -- pointed pieces partially wrapped in cloth for a handle.
Experts have warned that the severe overcrowding in the state’s prison system heightens the racial tensions. Built in 1941 for 3,160 inmates, the California Institute for Men in Chino now holds more than twice that.
The medium-security facility where the riot occurred -- Reception Center West -- has 1,381 prisoners in five dormitories.
Hargrove said prisoners are not normally separated by race in that facility -- except after a riot like Saturday’s. The facility is 27% black, 31% white, 39% Latino.
Of the 27 injured, 24 were African American, including all seven of those still hospitalized.
Officials said the riot did not have the markings of prison gang activity, particularly since it occurred during visiting hours. “That’s how they get their contraband,” Hargrove said. “They don’t disrupt visiting hours.”
Racial violence has beset the California prison system since the 1970s, when gangs like the Mexican Mafia, the Black Guerrilla Family and the Aryan Brotherhood fought for power. Last month in Chino, officers put down a fight between 60 black and Latino inmates in an eating area.
In September 2005, a clash between 270 black and Latino prisoners there left one critically injured. That January, a guard was stabbed to death.
In recent years, racial fighting has also erupted in the Los Angeles County jail system. In February, more than 2,000 inmates at the Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic went on a rampage that left one dead and 50 injured. A black inmate was killed in Men’s Central Jail downtown in a racially motivated fight the next week.
And at Pitchess in July, 16 inmates received minor injuries in two brief fights between 1,600 black and Latino inmates.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed spending $10.9 billion to add 78,000 beds to state prisons and county jails.