The loss of control in prisons

Prison riots occur because of a variety of reasons. Some of the most prevalent are:

  • overcrowding
  • sanitary conditions
  • food
  • discriminatory practices
  • racial tension
  • corruption

It is imperative that prison officials and staff understand the signs of a possible prison riot. By doing so, they may be able to make slight changes to stop a possible violent outbreak.

When it comes to prison riots, there is not one clear single answer, but overall, if prison officials look at past outbreaks and riots, they can use that history to develop a system that will incarcerate criminals in a more effective manner.

This article will take a look at the world’s largest prison riots. Insights into why they occurred will be considered. Just possibly, this can be used to keep other riots from happening in the future.

The largest prison riots

The riots that are being listed here are in no particular order. Primary reasons for the riot and when/where it happened will be documented. Scroll down and learn about the world’s largest prison riots.

Oklahoma State Prison Riot It was a hot July in 1973. The Oklahoma State Prison in McAlester, Oklahoma was at a high stress level. Overcrowding had been a serious issue at the prison for years. Just before the riot, the inmate population was sitting at more than double the occupancy limits. Prison officials knew they had a serious problem and attempts to get early release for low-level drug offenders and non-violent criminals fell on deaf ears in Governor David Hall’s office.

It all exploded on July 27, 1973. The mess hall was the scene where 2 guards were stabbed. The deputy warden and another official were taken hostage. Soon other inmates that were considered “snitches” were killed. The prison hospital was overrun by inmates and was under their control. Soon after, fire was set to much of the prison.

Inmates demanded that the ringleaders receive complete amnesty, and that they get access to ACLU attorneys. The inmates did release the hostages the next day, but they kept control of the prison until Aug. 4.

A Special Task Force ruled that the overcrowding had to be controlled. The problem wasn’t completely solved and in 1985, another riot occurred.

It is believed that since 1985, Oklahoma has worked at solving this issue. They have added more prisons and separated violent from non-violent offenders.

Sao Paulo Prison Riot In another case of extreme overcrowding, the prison in Sao Paulo, Brazil was the scene of one of the worst prison riots in history.

Many claim that it was not just the overcrowding that caused this riot in September of 1992, but it was also the amount of corruption by prison staff. The fallout during the riot caused leaders of Brazil to take a close look at the system.

It seems that police just started randomly shooting inmates. Over 100 inmates were shot and killed in the violence.

The riot started because of two rival drug gangs. It was when the Military police were called in when the majority of deaths happened. It seems that the Military Police of Brazil have had an extreme amount of killing people they have detained.

Through this whole situation, there was one police officer that was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 600 years.

New Mexico Penitentiary Riot This riot is probably considered the worst riot in prison history. The part of the prison that had this chaotic event in 1980 has since been closed.

It was another case of overcrowding and unsanitary conditions that finally drove violent inmates to extreme acts. No guards were killed during the process, but many were seriously injured and raped.

Many inmates were dragged out of cells and killed by other inmates. It was complete chaos. The National Guard had set up a perimeter and had tents. Inmates escaped the violent outbursts of other inmates, and the National Guard protected them in the tents.

A documentary was made that showed the brutality that can be caused during a prison riot.


Hopefully, governments and prison leaders all learn from these past riots. It seems overcrowding is the main cause. Is the answer more prisons, or possibly looking at what so many are in prison for?

The United States could surely take lessons from other countries for which the prison rate is much lower.

With the right leadership and control, prison riots can be something of the past.