After a fight between two prison gangs, a riot erupted at the California Men’s Colony on June 29, which caused two units to be placed under lockdown.
The California Men’s Colony, located less than 20 miles away from the Cal Poly campus, has housed notorious prisoners such as members of the Manson family, Suge Knight and serial killers Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris.
However, the riot was not caused by any notorious prisoners, but rather two prison gangs.
Dean Spears, the administrative assistant and public information officer for the Men’s Colony, said the riots were caused by the
“Southern Hispanic and Paisa disruptive groups,” with more than “120 inmates directly involved in the Unit I riot and approximately 70 additional (inmates) involved from Unit IV.”
“Gang violence between these two rival groups, and others, is prevalent throughout the United States, including the jails and prison systems,” Spears said.
Sunnymarie Thom, a former San Luis Obispo resident who now resides in Santa Maria, said she experienced gang violence after moving, including a beheading two blocks from her house two years ago.
Thom also said she had a particularly frightening experience while driving “on the good side of town” with her boyfriend.
After an erratic driver honked at them, she said she flipped him off. Unfortunately, her action caused the driver to follow them for more than a mile before turning around, she said.
“I was really worried because we were already in our neighborhood when he started to follow us,” Thom said. “I was afraid that he might be in a gang and would be able to find our house because my car is easy to recognize.”
Thom said the gang violence in Santa Maria made her worried about her friends who attend Cal Poly after the riot at the California Men’s Colony.
Max Hatton, a San Luis Obispo local whose sister was incarcerated at the local women’s prison, said hearing the news of the riot has not affected him.
“Hearing about it is a little unsettling, maybe,” Hatton said. “But I wouldn’t say that I am sitting here worrying about it. I’d imagine if I were a female going to Cal Poly, it would freak me out a little more.”
However, Hatton said while his sister was in jail for drug charges, he often worried about her having confrontations with other inmates. He said he felt sympathy for the family, relatives and friends of those incarcerated in the lockdown units.
“It doesn’t feel good to have a sibling in jail,” Hatton said. “All the bad things you would think about happening, you worry about them, but your own life comes first.”
Unfortunately, due to funding restraints, riots between prison gangs are not the only issues afflicting the California Men’s Colony.
In a report released June 15 by the San Luis Obispo County grand jury, the medical facilities at the Men’s Colony are “antiquated” and difficult for staff members to manage. Yet, the report additionally stated that the facility is well managed, and the jury said it would be provided with funding to fix these problems. There was no comment made on the recent riot. The jury said its role is to “act as ‘watchdog’ over county and sub-county government (such as) municipalities and special districts.”
Spears said California prisons have continually been plagued by overcrowding, ranging from 160 percent to 200 percent capacity, for an extended period of time.
Yet, he said the state prison system also “continues to do its best at managing, with the resources provided by the California State Legislature.”
Now, in the wake of the riot, Spears said the Men’s Colony is still managing the units that were in lockdown, which he said are “still operating under a modified program.”
Due to the structure of the units, it is not possible to lockdown the dorms, which consist of 45 bunk beds in an open setting, housing 90 inmates, according to Spears. The program does still allow staff to monitor the situation.
“A modified program allows staff to monitor and assess the inmate populations demeanor (or) attitude to establish what changes can take effect to the program to return to normal operations when it is deemed safe for the population and staff to do so,” Spears said