State offers tours of 1980 prison-riot site

Associated Press


The site of a violent 1980 riot at the state’s maximum-security penitentiary near Santa Fe has been opened to the public by the New Mexico Corrections Department.

The state began offering public tours last week of the infamous “Old Main” prison building, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

Thursday was the anniversary of one of the nation’s worst prison riots that claimed the lives of 33 people before National Guard troops were called. Most of the prison was scorched by fire.

The idea for the 90-minute tours followed Gov. Susana Martinez’s request that all state government departments organize public events in connection with the state’s Centennial celebration this year, Corrections Department spokeswoman Rosie Sais said.

“We decided to open up our historical building,” she said. “It was the location of the riot, but we will be putting the emphasis on the changes and improvements that have been made in the prison system.”

Topics will include how the Duran Consent Decree changed inmate rights, Sais said, referring to the federal court supervision order named after Dwight Duran, the inmate who filed the original complaint.

The tours will be on the second Friday of every month except October, when the tours will be on Halloween.

Overcrowding and a long history of mismanagement, including understaffing by poorly trained guards, capricious enforcement of the rules, physical abuse of inmates and lack of educational programs, were behind the riot.

Three years before it occurred, Duran was the lead plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against penitentiary officials over conditions at the prison. Post-riot, that lawsuit resulted in the court- ordered federal supervision of New Mexico prisons that lasted two decades.

In October, a crucifix that survived the riot was relocated to St. Francis Cathedral in Santa Fe. Official say the crucifix provided a symbol of survival for hundreds of inmates and prison officials during the riot.

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