1971: New Mexican Prison Strike

1971: New Mexican Prison Strike

This strike by New Mexico penitentiary inmates has been overshadowed by the more violent and dramatic uprising in 1980, though many of the causes and tensions were the same.

In August 1967, New Mexico governor David Cargo appointed J.E. Baker a reform-minded and rehabilitation-focused administrator, as the Penitentiary of New Mexico's warden. Through his time as warden, Baker implemented a number of changes in the prison's operating power structure, building direct ties and internal structure with inmates while diminishing the authoritarian power of correctional officers (COs). During this time, Baker also allowed the growth of inmate programs to improve educational and social skills.

Officers and administrators who favored the older system of discipline and custodial authority criticized Baker's reforms for the breakdown of authority structures between COs and inmates. On February 1970, Baker resigned as warden, and Felix Rodriguez took his place, slowing the process of prison reform and reinstating some of the authority COs had lost under Baker.

On 6 October 1971, inmates commenced a work and hunger strike, demanding the return of reforms and reduced restrictions on inmates. Rodriguez refused to address the inmates' demands as a collective, instead stating that he would listen to complaints on an individual basis, which the inmates refused. On 7 October, officers announced an ultimatum for the strike to end by 11 a.m. the next day, 8 October. In response, also on 7 October, inmates began to riot, destroying property in the dormitories. While the campaigners themselves were not violent towards other people, the COs responded by using clubs and tear gas to stop the property destruction by the prisoners. The one and a half hour riot also caused the destruction of $65,000 worth of prison property. Following the suppression on that day, the prisoners ended their work and hunger strike.

In the months after the event, a number of guards were indicted for brutality against the Prison of New Mexico inmates. Rodriguez began a return to Baker's track for rehabilitation through inmate programs and building connections to inmate administrators. This did, however, lead to demoralization and apathy among the prison's custodial authorities.

Sources:

Colvin, Mark. The Penitentiary in Crisis: From Accommodation to Riot in New Mexico. Albany: State University of New York, 1992.
Colvin, Mark. "The 1980 New Mexico Prison Riot." http://www.radford.edu/~junnever/articles/prison.htm

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy:

Fatimah Hameed, 17/05/2013

Published for the Global Nonviolent Action Database

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