What actions unite inmates as a mob?
For whatever reasons, a riot jumped off on July 1, 2015, at the ASPC Kingman Complex – by reading preliminary reports “leaked” by DOC employees, there appears to be a culture not willing to take the blame for the riot or whatever happened during this disturbance. Governor Ducey has ordered a full probe or investigation on this matter, and we will have to wait and see what this report contains and how thorough it will be regarding the root causes of this riot. One thing is for certain; inmates unleashed an attack that was violent and well organized in the sense of unity, cooperation and targets. The reason for their involvement is yet to be determined but there are always root causes that lead to such attacks that are predominantly shared in almost every riot recorded. Another thing that was certain was the fact that there was a mob mentality present those first three days inside the Kingman prison complex – although a mob mentality doesn’t always lead to violence, this was not the case for this disturbance. Staff were the primary targets and should send a very serious message to the administration as to how the employees became the focus of this rage and destruction that took place inside this privately owned prison.
A common thread that pulls people together in unity and work them into a frenzy are issues about social injustice, treatment, freedoms, rights and victimization. When such issues boil, the riot is quite predictable as to ‘something is going to happen’ and eventually it does. A mob mentality can often also be called a ‘herd mentality’ as they unite and become one in a very large crowd. Regardless of race, color, religious or other preferences or traditions, a herd is rare inside prisons unless there is a common root value or values disrupting their own individual needs or desires thus gathering them for one common cause – change. One has to ask, what would cause inmates to defy physical violence, chemical agents, and the use of non-lethal weapons and eventually placed in isolation for the participation. One could suggest desperation is one avenue of thinking, however, there is more to the reasons why they united and defied authority and power structures and infrastructures those days of the riot. The main dialog of concern should be “exploitation of the environment.”
Before it is not mentioned anywhere else, there are artificial causes or reasons for such mob or herd mentalities. Most of the time, when inmates act what if called out-of-character, there are strong suspicions of use and abuse of drugs, homebrew alcohol, and other mind-altering substances which may have contributed to some of the violence but not entirely the blame or cause of such behaviors. The triggers serve as a means to act out and demonstrate resistance and defiance to authority and power structures which in most normal circumstances, controls the environment. There is strong suspect drugs are rampantly available and used to alter moods and stimulate ‘high’ and ‘lows’ depending on the need or addiction.
When inmates set aside race or color and demonstrate hatred and extreme disobedience or insubordination, there are factors to consider that may have ‘stoked the fire.’ Molding a like-minded mob or herd is usually pushed by leaders chanting brutality and bold risk taking behaviors. Leaders who may have collaborated or planned such a resistance plan well-ahead of the actual days of the riot. It is certain there were no race or color indifferences fueled during this riot. In fact, quite the opposite as it was staff versus inmates and that indicates another matter of concern that is very disturbing. Another fact quickly gleaned was the absence of religious extremism with the exception of Muslims celebrating the Ramadan and engaging in violence and destruction of property for reasons yet to be determined by the main report.
One has to examine that possibility as the conditions for the riot on this specific incident were ideal and in favor of the inmates and not staff until sufficient resources arrived to retake the institution and implement control, containment and count them for accountability purposes. It truly epitomizes what can happen when extremism and mobs collide. In fact, this incident could be a significant factor in the end of the report when all is summarized and examined.
The first report indicating 200 to 300 inmates grouping up to assault another inmate should have triggered an assessment which would have indicated a potential conflict either pending or imminently upcoming as the time passed. Omitting the details of this first trigger to the destruction of the minimum custody level dormitories since that information was not released except via photographs, it is fair to say, even with the flimsiest evidence or accusatory perceptions, their anger, frustrations and destruction was focused on property and not staff except for the initial contact to ‘chase’ the inmate who sought safety amongst the staff present and the staff were attacked.
Perhaps the most bizarre part was the fact the inmate ‘chased’ was an addictive drug user who allegedly owed a large debt and that he was subjected to peer punishment for owing this debt and was in great condition of vulnerability and risked being killed if he had not remained so close to the staff who were releasing him back into general population with a welcoming crowd gathering to meet him. The herd leaders remain in a perpetual state of instability and vulnerability, always trying to get to the top, remain influential and letting the moods of others not cloud their judgment and thrive on inciting more actions as the mood calms down and order appears to appear. The recreation yards are breeding grounds for herd mentality. Not only is it easy for rec field users to find throngs of other individuals who share their brand of crazy, but it shields everyone under a cloak of anonymity, which gives people the freedom to let go of their social restraints.
The second trigger was an “aggressive” inmate interfering with staff and complaining about conditions that did not seem to impact him personally but did impact those inmates attending Ramadan ceremonies and waiting to eat their sunset meal after fasting all day. Whether or not this was triggered by religious reason is not unknown, however, once the chemical agents were deployed, the Ramadan inmates engaged in violent and destructive behaviors, a complete opposite expectation for the religious group to act during such ceremonious times. Having total disregard for a copious amount of staff present due to the first fight at another housing unit, this group openly and brazenly defied authority and staff presence and commenced to destroy and attack staff regardless of the command presence of special tactics groups and staff.
Roaming virtual gangs harass others in group forums while picking up supporters along the way. It leads to rude, racist, homophobic, and threatening that the harassers would never say in during ‘normal’ environmental conditions however, the strategy appears to have been premediated and preplanned thus an agenda had already formed.
Pre-Riot Conditions –
- Holiday weekend pending
- Low staffing
- Weak administration
- No “voice” for the inmates
Corrections administrators bear sole responsibility for the preparation and deployment of correctional enforcement assets. Their ability to recognize, react swiftly to unfolding events is critical – it is suggested there were poor situational assessments and intelligence activities conducted and the reaction was limited to the amount of staff available to respond. Corrections administrators failed to meet professional standards on all levels. As a result of the MTC organization operating with a known 15 % vacancy rate and with almost one-third of their workforce inexperienced in the practice of crowd control and containment during a riot – chaos and lawlessness ensured.
It is with a great deal of certainty, MTC employees did not have the capacity to apply and enforce the majority of institutional rules and regulations which had secondary negative impact on the environment. It is also reasonable that in order to apply an arrest, detain and escort an inmate, sufficient staff had to be present to control the situation and give an appearance of control to the inmates to avoid further conflict or escalations. It is highly likely, officers were told not to enforce the rules to a point which placed them in some sort of personal danger. Therefore, they would hesitate to enforce and engage when violations occurred unless they had the “backup” required to make such an arrest safely and without further conflict.
It was likely officers received instructions to be passive in nature or behaviors by supervisory staff and management to avoid conflict and let the inmates ‘slide’ on minor report infractions. This created a sense of boldness and lawlessness that empowers them to take higher risks and become problematic in time. There are serious questions asked about the conditions of gear, equipment and essential safety equipment that would allow better hands on treatment or control mechanism to exist. If the equipment or tools provided were incompatible with the needs of the officers, they were likely discarded or not used when a need arises.
Working shorthanded and working excessive hours or overtime impacts the effectiveness and morale of the men and women in uniform. Fatigue influences morale, energy, thinking, strength, and other factors determined to be side effects of sleep deprivation which in turn results in poor decision making and controls turnover, absences, and other negative feelings including the emotions of being ‘humiliated, dejected, devalued, insulted and ignored” by the administration who don’t seem care about them as much as they do about the inmates. This created an instant “us versus them” culture and attitude whenever a supervisor or administrator was not present.
The overwhelming sentiment of officers in the MTC workforce response to the riots was lacking in many areas which were prompted for the need to call for emergency backup from local resources until the DOC emergency response team arrived from state prisons deployed 24/7 whenever such a disturbance occurs. This caused a time lapse in their ability to sustain control and prevent further physical damage to the facility as inmates roamed freely to enter and engage various areas at will. Decisions implemented by top MTC administrators and supervisors left officers in harm’s way, making them vulnerable and susceptible to more attacks. The majority of them did not get the necessary support to do their jobs effectively.
Factors for inmates to herd up or engage in a mob mentality action – Despite claims by the MTC or DOC organization that they are not failing their legal responsibilities to deliver mandatory and essential programs or services, there are few if not rare occasions a herd or mob mentality will unite for a common cause and ignore racial, ethnic and religious cultural line.
Staff harassment and abuse of inmates – abusive behaviors by staff against inmates. Abuse or harassment may include but not limited to racist and derogatory remarks. Abusive use of disciplinary sanctions and isolation. Other actions include arbitrary threats, taunting, bullying, threatening physical violence or dispersing chemical agents and ‘attitude adjustments’ out of the main line of vision. Disrespect, humiliation and degrading gestures or words add to the tension of inmates feeling belittled and abused.
Arbitrary use of isolation and failure to protect individuals from physical harm (protective custody) – inmates who are targeted arbitrarily to ‘control’ attitudes or behaviors are eventually released back into the population but not without a level of humiliation or disrespect in front of the other inmates. Locked up in isolation is punished received as a sanction for a report or in some cases, arbitrarily ordered to take the inmate ‘off the yard” to teach them a lesson in behaviors and manners. Locked up in a cell with no room for their normal movement, they depend on staff to receive their food, showers, personal hygiene, toilet paper and many other things that are vital, when denied, making it harder for them to cope in a reasonable and orderly fashion. For 23 hours a day, they are limited in space and freedom and lose their visitation privileges temporarily until sanctions are completed or the housing has been changed back to general population standards. Failure to protect charges occur whenever someone is locked up for fighting and then released upon completing their time without regard to the reason or extended liabilities involved in the fight. There are often cases of retaliation where an individual is gang stomped and sometimes killed when they return to the yard after doing their time in isolation. Pleas for protective custody are ignored and risks are increased when they are released and subject to assault or serious bodily harm.
Primary reasons for such frustrations are legitimate and validated reasons for protective custody that include nature of crime offenses [sex offenders], testimony against a co-defendant or plea bargain for lesser time or charges, former law enforcement, gang involvement, etc. – Although legitimately established and justified by historical data, many are refused initial placements, until they are seriously injured normally resulting in hospitalization or treatment of serious wounds, injuries sustained.
Delayed and inadequate medical care causes needless suffering – this is a long time grievance or discrepancy that is constantly being violated and not corrected within a reasonable time frame. Inmates feel these contractors are not performing according to the terms of their contracts with the DOC and want changes made to ensure better compliance and delivery of services mandated by law and contract.
MTC Kingman incentivizes overcrowding – Kingman, like other private prisons, contain an occupancy quota stipulating the facility will or must remain at least 90 % capacity, with extra per prisoner payment up to 115 % capacity. Kingman and MTC are the largest contract holders for one single prison complex. This is a perverse incentive to admit, house and keep as many inmates as the DOC is willing to send them and it often includes the use of housing areas not designed for living and shortens the availabilities of personal hygiene, toilets, showers and other amenities where privacy is a limited concern but the personal space is encroached as well creating tension and unsanitary conditions adding to health concerns and safety factors.
When cubicle space is reduced, property is reduced or not issued, dormitories that were never intended to hold as many have to lose encumbered space below the limits set for reasonable occupation conditions and creates a “touch” feeling that is very personal and intrusive for many who are exposed to these conditions and often results in bedding put on the floors and gymnasium space rather than designed living space.
Interference with legal activities, mail deliveries, property issues and stifling of dissent issues – interferences of essential programs and property available for the respective custody levels are often modified from policies and procedures. Shortages, restriction and hold-ups are arbitrarily done to control information flow and frequency of service when shorthanded. Delays via the inmate grievance process often ignored or delayed on purpose either arbitrarily or as a means to retaliate for other reasons. This is determined to be a course of action commonly taken to stifle the action or dissent of the inmates on various issues that include legal, healthcare, caseworker, substance abuse disciplinary etc.
Movement is restricted long delays for programming – due to staff shortages, mass movements are severely restricted even at a low security facility. This is complicated with frequent body searches and delays that often infringe of the total amount of time dedicated to programs, treatment or other authorized platforms.
Isolation from attorneys, legal services, and advocacy organizations impedes external reform efforts – Kingman is geographically remote or isolated from the larger cities creating unnecessary barriers by attorneys and advocacy organizations. Because volunteers or outside advocacy groups are having difficult times making on-time arrivals and schedules are inconsistent, this creates a stoppage or interruption when the programs are cancelled due to staffing shortages or space restrictions.
Private prisons obscured oversight status – the truth about what happens inside a private prison often stays secret or hidden until a riot or other type of disturbance causes a full review of conditions of confinement and causes. More than often, there is insufficient oversight and accountability and exempts the prison from normal intrusions or inspections. Oversight maintains controls over policies, rules, and regulations intended to set baselines of safe and humane treatment in prisons. Meanwhile, external oversight and accountability is frustrated by the isolation of inmates from attorneys and legal services. DOC does not impose sufficient oversight and accountability at prisons, thereby creating long term poor conditions and eventually creating population that is frustrated and angry over living / confinement conditions.