New Mexico

New Mexico State Penitentiary Riot

February 3, 1980
Santa Fe, New Mexico
The New Mexico State Penitentiary Riot ends on the second day

The riot was sparked by guards encouraging inmates to turn into informants leading to the “snitches” being targeted in the prison, inadequate conditions — including overpopulation (at the time of the incident 1,136 prisoners were housed in a facility built to hold 900), subpar food, and unsanitary communal dormitories — and a relatively recent cancelation of recreational and education activities.

Early on February 2, two inmates overpowered a guard and, within minutes, 4 additional guards were taken hostage. A fleeing guard was unable to lock down the area, allowing the inmates a path to open more cells. The original plan was to locate those in the protective custody area of the prison, designated to house those convicted of sex crimes and informants among others, and get retribution on those who had snitched. However, as the violence swelled the attackers became less discerning.

Once the rioters forced their way into the segregated unit, prisoners were tortured, decapitated, dismembered, hanged, or burned alive. One witness reported watching an inmate held up to a window and a blowtorch used on his face. Another was decapitated with an axe, and one of the snitches, a man who filed law suits against his rapists, was found hanging, his throat cut, and his genitals severed and stuffed in his mouth. Another victim was hanged, partially decapitated by the noose after his body was thrown from a balcony, and his body dismembered. Many of the murdered and surviving victims were also sodomized.

Thirty-six hours after the riots began, an agreement was met between the inmates and prison officials. The inmates made 11 demands concerning the unsanitary conditions, lack of educational programs, and other concerns. Thirty-three inmates were killed and over 200 were injured. The 12 guards taken hostage all survived, though some were severely beaten and/or raped.

The axe marks where an inmate was decapitated have been filled in but are still visible.

A burned area of ground where an inmate was burned alive.

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