LOS ANGELES — Rioting inmates smashed and burned a large California prison on Saturday night and Sunday morning, injuring 250 prisoners and hospitalizing 55.
The 11-hour riot, at the Reception Center West at the California Institution for Men in Chino, about 40 miles east of Los Angeles, broke down along racial lines, with black prison gangs fighting Latino gangs in hand-to-hand combat, the authorities said.
No prison employees were injured, no deaths were reported, and no inmates escaped, state officials said. But 10 of the 33 prisons in the state system were put on lockdown to prevent unrest from spreading. Those 10 were in the southern part of the state.
Damage to the 1,300-inmate medium-security prison was “significant and extensive,” said a spokesman, Lt. Mark Hargrove. One housing unit was virtually destroyed by fire, Lieutenant Hargrove said. The other housing areas were so badly damaged that they were uninhabitable, he said, so some inmates were being temporarily housed in tents while others were sent to alternate prisons.
With more than 150,000 inmates, the California prison system is one of the most crowded in the nation, with many of its facilities holding more than double the number of inmates they were designed for. A federal three-judge panel ruled last week that crowding and poor health care caused one avoidable inmate death each week and that the system was “impossible to manage.”
Lieutenant Hargrove said prisoners had smashed windows, torn down gates and used whatever they could to battle one another in the riot.
“Inmates broke out glass and used shards as knives,” he said. “They used pieces of metal, wood, whatever they could break off the walls, pipes.”
The Chino prison is trying to put into effect a 2005 Supreme Court decision that prohibits automatic and systematic racial segregation of prison inmates after more than three decades of racial separation in the corrections system.
Lieutenant Hargrove said that inmates could now opt out of segregation and that a growing number of black, Latino and white prisoners shared cells, increasing racial tensions in the prison.
“All races had injuries,” Lieutenant Hargrove said of the weekend riot. “But there are a greater number of injuries among Hispanic and black inmates. And we did have another incident that occurred in May, a riot between blacks and Hispanics, and this may be associated with that incident.”
Prison officials said they were still questioning inmates to understand what set off the uprising. They said no demands or complaints had been directed at the guards.
Inmates in one of seven 200-man housing units began brawling around 8:20 p.m. Saturday, officials said. Overwhelmed guards set off an alarm and retreated as unrest spread.
Thirty minutes later, a crisis response team of about 80 guards arrived, but the chaos inside prevented them from entering. Guards watched as prisoners constructed barricades of broken bunk beds, desks and other furniture and clashed in the prison yards and on rooftops.
As inmates tired on Sunday and fighting died down, guards re-entered the prison and reasserted control, officials said, staving off sporadic attacks from prisoners throwing scrap metal and glass.
Lieutenant Hargrove said that the entire prison was being treated as a crime scene and that new charges would probably be filed against prisoners who participated in the violence, which was mainly between inmates.
In its order last week, the federal panel directed the state to come up with a plan to reduce its prison population by 40,000 inmates within two years. Attorney General Jerry Brown, a possible candidate for governor next year, said he would probably appeal the ruling.
Barry Krisberg, the president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency in Oakland, said the riot illustrated the many problems plaguing the state prison system, including growing cost overruns and pending cuts.
“There are proposals to eliminate all programs including reducing visiting days for inmates participating in programs,” Mr. Krisberg said. “But if you isolate these men from their families and cut down even the most basic educational and counseling programs, you’re going to create more idleness, and this is what happens.”