The Worst Prison Riots of All Time

Photographs show the inside of the New Mexico State Prison, where one of the worst prison riots in United States history occurred.
Photographs show the inside of the New Mexico State Prison, where one of the worst prison riots in United States history occurred.

A prison riot could also be described as an uprising or rebellion, usually staged by prisoners against prison personnel. The factors that lead up to a prison riot are complicated and can include such things as terrible prison conditions, overpopulation, mistreatment of prisoners, and more. Prison riots can be very dangerous and have led to the deaths of numerous people. Here are some of the worst prison riots of all time. 

10. Carandiru Massacre

The Carandiru massacre occurred on Friday, October 2, 1992. It was as a result of a prison riot which broke out at Carandiru Penitentiary in São Paulo, Brazil. Military police were called upon to calm the riot which led to the death of 111 people. Out of the 111 prisoners who died, 102 were shot dead by the police. The police were accused of a violation of human rights since they even shot at prisoners who had surrendered. Colonel Ubiratan Guimarães, who headed the operation, was accused of providing poor leadership. He was sentenced to 632 years of imprisonment but the conviction was later declared void by a São Paulo court. Hence, the killers of the 102 inmates were never brought to justice.

9. El Porvenir Prsion, Honduras (86 Deaths)

El Porvenir Prison is located near Ceiba, close to the Caribbean coast in Honduras. The prison is used to hold suspects of weapons, drugs, rape, and assault charges as they await trial. The El Porvenir Prison riot occurred in April 6, 2003. The riot started when a fight errupted between the “Mara Salvatrucha” and “La 18” gang members. The riot involved the gang members setting mattresses in the cells on fire. The fire caused the death of 86 inmates, many injuries, as well as the escape of several prisoners from prison. It took police officers, firefighters, and prison guards three hours to contain the situation.

8. Attica Prison Riot (39 Deaths) United States, 1971

The Attica Prison Riot was a four-day revolt that took place at Attica Correctional Facility in New York. Prisoners held 39 prison employees and guards hostage. During the riot, 29 inmates and 10 hostages were killed. On the fourth day of the riot, state police and corrections officers regained control of the prison. The police were accused of shooting prisoners who had surrendered. Furthermore, the 89 inmates who had been injured received substandard treatment. As if that was not enough, the police tried to cover up their involvement in killing the 10 hostages. However, autopsy results gave proof that the prisoners had been shot dead. The inmates later accepted $8 million settlement for the case filed against the prison and state officials for violation of Human Rights.

7. New Mexico State Penitentiary Riot (33 Deaths) United States, 1980

The New Mexico State Penitentiary riot was one of the most violent prison uprisings in American history. It was caused by poor prison conditions such as poor sanitation, poor quality of food, and overcrowding. The riot took place on February 2 to 3, 1980. It involved taking hostage of 12 officers. It took State Police officers and the Santa Fe Police Department officers 36 hours to restore order in the prison. 33 inmates lost their lives while over 200 suffered injuries. Most of the inmates who died had been brutally murdered by the rioters.

6. Iquique, Chile Prison Riot (28 Deaths) Chile, 2001

The riot was started by prisoners in May 2001 at a prison in Iquique, 1800 km north of Santiago. According to Chile’s President Ricardo Lagos, the riot was an outcome of the unbearable prison conditions in Chile; especially overcrowding. In the midst of the chaos, inmates started a fire that engulfed part of the penal complex that was built in 1981. The fire was controlled hours later but this was after 28 inmates were burned to death and 150 were injured.

5. Davao Metrodiscom Prison Riot (21 Deaths) The Philippines, 1989

The Davao Metrodiscom prison riot took place from August 13 - 15, 1989. On August 13, 1989 a group of 16 prisoners who had escaped from the Davao Penal Colony took hostage of 15 civilians. The hostages were members of a Protestant group called the Joyful Assembly of God. Amidst them was also an Australian missionary called Jacqueline Hamill. The prisoners, who were members of the “Wild Boys of DaPeCol” were protesting against the poor conditions of the Davao Metrodiscom prison. The crisis ended after an intervention by both police and the military leading to the rescue of 10 hostages. However, 21 people were killed in the riot. 16 of them were the inmates while the other 5 were civilians including Jacqueline Hamill whose death raised international concerns.

4. Santa Ana Prison (30 Deaths) Venezuela, 2007

The Santa Ana Prison riot took place in December 2007 at the Apanteos jail which is 66 km from San Salvador. The prison holds about 2,000 inmates, some of whom are the most dangerous prisoners in the county. On that fateful day, an argument between a guard and an inmate led to an outbreak of violence in the cells. Inmates used shovels, pieces of broken walls, and homemade weapons to fight each other. Ultimately, the riot led to the death of 30 inmates.

3. Pavon/Granja Pino Canada/El Hoyon Prisons (35 Deaths) Guatemala, 2005

The Guatemala prison riots involved coordinated riots in seven prisons including Pavon, El Hoyon, and Granja Pino Canada. It occurred in August 2005, and was stirred up by attacks of the “Mara Salvatrucha” gang against the “MS-18” gang. The attacks were carried out using grenades, knives, and guns and resulted in 35 deaths. During the coordinated attacks, three inmates died in Canada Prison Farm while eight died in the Pavon prison. In addition, there were 61 inmates and one guard who were injured at El Hoyon with some of the gang members bleeding from knife wounds.

2. Brazil Prison Riots (33 Deaths) Brazil, 2017

The riots were caused by conflict between two rival drug trafficking gangs called Familie do Norte (NDF) and Primeiro Commando da Capital (PCC). There were three riots which took place in January 1, 8, and 24, 2017 at the Anisio Jobim Penitentiary Complex in Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil. The riots were very brutal as they involved beheading and taking of hostages. In the end, 60 prisoners were killed. In response to this prison riot, another riot erupted five days later at the Agricultual Penitentiary of Monte Cristo. During this riot, 33 prisoners lost their lives. The Monte Cristo prison riot was believed to have been organized by PCC.

1. Ciudad Juarez Riots (20 deaths) Mexico, 2009

The two hour long prison riot took place on March 4, 2009 in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The Ciudad Juarez prison riot took place at the Cerezo state prison claiming the lives of 20 people. It broke out when several rival gangs namely “Los Mexicles,” “Artistas Asesinos,” and “Barrio Azteca” got into a fight. The attackers used rifles, iron pins, and knives to attack each other. It took a minimum of 50 members of the Mexican Army, 200 police, an airplane and two helicopters to quell the Ciudad Juarez riots.


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