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Black-Latino tensions blamed in Chino prison riot [updated]

August 10, 2009 | 11:18 am

State officials said today that a riot that left scores injured and a dormitory burned at a Chino prison was the result of racial tensions between black and Latinos prisoners and announced that 1,100 inmates were being moved to other facilities.

La-me-chinoprison-tn Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said that officials are still trying to determine exactly what sparked the violence, which damaged a unit that holds 1,300 inmates, but that race was clearly a factor.

“It was a very violent incident,” Thornton said. “We’re still trying to figure out why.”

Following a 2005 Supreme Court decision that found routine racial segregation to be illegal, Chino and other California prisons are moving away from the historic practice of separating inmates by race. Inmates may now share cells with prisoners of different races. The barracks involved in the rioting had been fully integrated.

[Updated at 1:40 p.m.: But it remains unclear what role, if any, the Supreme Court decision played in the Chino problem. Thornton said the court ruling only applied to prisoners in cells. The violence in Chino broke out in an area where prisoners are housed in baracks, which she said was not covered by the decision. Only two prisons with cells have been integrated since the 2005 ruling, and Chino is not among them, she said.]

Thornton said the 1,100 inmates were either waiting to be transferred or en route to one of four institutions: the Calipatria State Prison in Imperial County, the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad and the Heman G. Stark Youth Correctional Facility in Chino.

Thirty inmates with non-life-threatening injuries were still hospitalized this morning.

The incident occurred in a reception center with barrack-style bunks built in the 1940s, said Curt Hagman, a California assemblyman whose district includes a portion of Chino. “It’s a design and facility issue more than overcrowding,” he said. “By nature prisons are violent.”

The California prison system canceled visiting hours over the weekend and is in lockdown indefinitely, Thornton said.

-- Nicole Santa Cruz