400 inmates were fighting this morning in a state prison near Tucson, according to ABC15.com, a website for an Arizona TV station. Department of Corrections spokesman Bill Lamoreaux said that authorities had locked down the prison while they investigated.
According to a report by Dylan Smith for Tucson Sentinel, the huge “brawl” involved “about 300 white and Mexican-American inmates fighting with about 100 African-American prisoners.”
The melee involved nearly one-third of the 1,250 inmates in the Whetstone Unit of Arizona State Prison Complex in Tucson. Although the prison reacted quickly to shut down the fracas, five prisoners suffered injuries severe enough to require transport to a hospital. More prisoners were treated at the prison.
Two members of the staff also suffered minor injuries.
A fight between 200 inmates broke out in the Santa Rita Unit of the same prison in September, according to a report by Domenico Nicosia for The Arizona Republic. On that occasion, Lamoreaux said that the fight was under control within half an hour.
Despite the speed of the response, two prison officers as well as 11 inmates had to be hospitalized as a result of their injuries.
If anyone knows what is causing the prisoners to occasionally break out in these large-scale fights that might almost be considered riots, no one is saying. The sheer size of the state prison in question might have a bearing. Smith said, “The prison currently houses 5,134 inmates, 1,242 of them in the 1,250-bed capacity mimimum-security Whetstone Unit.”
Racial tension in Arizona’s jails and prisons may also play a role. Last year, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio went on trial before US District Judge G. Murray Snow for the practice of racial profiling, according to a report by William Hermann for Business Week. That trial ended when the judge said that he needed more data before he came to a conclusion, but many Mexican-Americans and Mexican immigrants suspected Arpaio of singling out Hispanic drivers for traffic stops.
The US Department of Justice has also investigated the Phoenix, AZ area sheriff for possible racial profiling.
However, the conditions in a minimum security unit of a state prison in Tucson are not likely to be the same as the controversial “tent city” jail in Maricopa County, so the ultimate cause of the fighting is currently unknown. What do you think sparked 400 inmates to start brawling?