All US federal prisons on lockdown after deadly Texas brawl

Authorities says the move was taken out of an ‘abundance of caution’ after two inmates killed at facility in Beaumont.

prisoners stand in a crowded lunch line during a prison tour at Elmore Correctional Facility in Elmore, Alabama
Management of federal prisons in the US has come under increased scrutiny [File: Brynn Anderson/The Associated Press]

All federal prisons across the United States were locked down overnight following a deadly gang brawl in a facility in the state of Texas, authorities say.

The US Bureau of Prisons (BOP), in a statement, said two prisoners were killed in the incident late on Monday at a prison in the town of Beaumont, which sparked the early Tuesday lockdowns. Authorities identified the men as Andrew Pineda, 34, and Guillermo Riojas, 54.

Two other prisoners were taken to a hospital, although their conditions were not immediately released.

The agency said it acted with an “abundance of caution” by ordering all federal prisons across the country to lock down, a rare move that requires inmates to be confined to their cells and cancels visits.

Federal prisons across the US hold more than 134,000 prisoners convicted of federal, rather than state, crimes.

“We anticipate this security measure will be short-lived,” the BOP said in the statement, adding it “will continue to monitor events carefully and will adjust its operations accordingly as the situation evolves”.

Federal authorities did not immediately release details of what sparked the incident in Texas, but the Associated Press news agency and the New York Times newspaper, both citing unnamed sources, reported that members of the MS-13 gang, which has connections to El Salvador, were involved in the fighting.

The gang’s national reach sparked concerns the violence would spread. The national lockdown is at least the fourth since the beginning of 2020, with another lockdown imposed in April of that year amid surging coronavirus cases.

A national lockdown was also enforced during the January 6, 2021, riot at the US capitol and shortly before the inauguration of US President Joe Biden.

The latest lockdown follows a string of serious security issues across federal prisons and comes shortly after embattled BOP Director Michael Carvajal announced he would retire amid criticism of his leadership.

The prison complex in Beaumont, which houses 1,372 men, has been particularly in the spotlight, with union officials decrying what they call a serious staffing crisis.

AP in June reported that security at the complex is so lax that local law enforcement officials privately joke about its “open-door policy”. Several inmates have escaped from the prison in recent years.

In a tweet early on Tuesday, US Senator Dick Durbin, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote that he had asked for an “immediate briefing on this latest instance of violence in our federal prisons, and on what BOP is doing to protect staff and inmates from further violence”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies