By Greg Risling
LOS ANGELES — More than three dozen inmates were released from hospitals Sunday after being involved in a racially motivated riot that badly damaged a Southern California prison and forced the lockdown of nine others.
The riot that erupted Saturday night sent 55 prisoners to the hospital and injured more than 250 inmates in all, officials said. Thirty-eight inmates were treated and were expected to return to the California Institution for Men in Chino, east of Los Angeles, by late Sunday, said Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman George Kostyrko.
Most of the injuries were considered minor to moderate, including stab wounds and slashes. One inmate suffered a serious head injury, Kostyrko said. However, none of the injuries were considered life-threatening.
No staff members were injured in the disturbance, the largest since December 2006.
As many as 80 officers responded to the riot, which involved some 1,300 inmates in seven dormitory-style barracks. A fire that ignited during the chaos caused significant damage to one of the buildings, prison spokesman Lt. Mark Hargrove said. Prison officials couldn't say how the fire started.
Authorities believe the riot was prompted by tensions between black and Hispanic prisoners.
"It appears we had some southern Hispanic gang members targeting African Americans," Kostyrko said.
Officers used pepper spray, wielded batons and shot foam projectiles to remove inmates who had barricaded themselves inside the medium-security facility during the four-hour uprising. Police officers and firefighters also were called to help subdue the inmates. Eleven hours later, prison officials had cleared out the facility of disruptive inmates.
The outbreak occurred at a reception center that accepts new inmates and parole offenders being processed to be housed at the prison and sent to other facilities in the state, officials said.
Prison staff became aware of a plan to carry out a riot Thursday night, Hargrove told the Riverside Press-Enterprise. The prison was placed on a modified lockdown, which included feeding inmates in their cells and restricting movement around the property. That lockdown continued until Saturday when the riot began.
Still, the inmates were able to inflict serious damage to the facility and one another. Most of the barracks are currently uninhabitable, and inmates have been relocated to other parts of the prison.
Curt Hagman, a state assemblyman for the district that includes Chino, believes the riot was a "coordinated attack."
"They all knew what they were going to do in starting a big brawl," Hagman told the Press-Enterprise. He added that inmates used improvised weapons and broken glass to stab each other.
The prison has about 5,900 inmates; it was designed to hold 3,160.
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All 10 prisons in Southern California were put on lockdown as a precaution and visitations have been suspended because of the melee, officials said.