Prison riot

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Prison mutiny redirects here. For the 1943 American film directed by Phil Rosen, see You Can't Beat the Law.

A prison riot is an act of concerted defiance or disorder by a group of prisoners against the prison administrators, prison officers, or other groups of prisoners in attempt to force change or express a grievance.

Prison riots have received little academic attention. The papers that do exist tend to draw a connection between prison conditions (such as prison overcrowding) and riots,[1][2][3] or discuss the dynamics of the modern prison riot.[4][5] In addition, a large proportion of papers focus on specific cases of prison riots.[6][7][8] Others recent research deals with strike and repertoires of contention of inmate-workers.[9]

Prison conditions

In the late 20th century the conceptualization of explanations put forward to account for prison disturbances and riots has changed. Initially the actions by prisoners were viewed as irrational. Nevertheless, there is a shift in the form of explanation as external conditions like overcrowding are put forward by the authorities to interpret the events.[10]

List of notable prison riots










Gulag uprisings

List of fictional prison riots

The following is a list of prison riots which have been depicted in various forms of media, including books, film, and television.

  • In Toy Story 3, Buzz Lightyear is trapped in a prison cubby by his own prisoners, starting a prison riot
  • In Season 3 of the FOX Network show 24, the main character, Jack Bauer, starts a prison riot.
  • The riot at Fox River that occurred during Prison Break's first season's two-part episode "Riots, Drills, and the Devil".
  • Network Ten created a TV series called Prisoner (Prisoner Cell Block H in some countries), a show set in a prison in Melbourne, this had multiple riots through the series run.
  • Multiple riots occurred in the television series Oz during its six season run.
  • On St.Elsewhere the show featured a prison riot, where Jack Morrison (David Morse) is raped by a prisoner.
  • In The Simpsons episode "The Homer They Fall", a prison riot in progress is halted instantly when imprisoned champion boxer Drederick Tatum petulantly asks the inmates and guards to "Shut up." They apologize and begin extinguishing the flames and tidying up.
  • Episode 285 of Blue Heelers, Stir Crazy
  • The riot in the film Natural Born Killers[1].
  • In the film Blood in Blood out, in San Quentin State Prison, after gangleader Montana was killed.
  • In the movie Scum, by Alan Clarke the borstal inmates protest the official indifference that led to the suicide of one of the boys on the night before that he had been raped. It is not clear whether the perpetrators of the rape had participated. During the scene the inmates refuse to eat breakfast, and one by one they start chanting the eponymous "scum" and proceed to demolish the canteen, with the staff locking themselves into a secure area. The movie ends shortly after in the final scene with the governor claiming to mourn the death of the boy, whilst informing the inmates there is full loss of privileges "until the damage has been paid for".
  • In the graphic novel and film Watchmen, after a burn victim of Rorschach dies, a prison riot breaks out in an attempt to kill him. Rorschach escapes with the aid of Nite-Owl and Silk Spectre.
  • In the episode "A Game of Checkers" of the HBO television series Oz, a riot breaks out in Oswald Pen.'s Emerald City, with Muslim activist 'Kareem Saïd' (real name Goodson Truman) leading it (with the help of a gun given to him by a Muslim prison guard. It is eventually broken up with tear gas and a SWAT team.
  • In Episode 6 of the 3rd season of the British TV show Ashes to Ashes, a prison riot occurs at Fenchurch East Prison.
  • In the episode "Redemptio" in season 6 of CBS television series CSI: NY, Sheldon Hawkes gets trapped in a prison riot while investigating the death of a prison guard.
  • Critically awarded Spanish film, Celda 211 is largely centered around a riot in a Zamora jail.
  • In the game Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Double Agent, Irving Lambert has two splinter cells stage a riot to help Sam Fisher escape with Jamie Washington in an effort for Sam to gain Jamie's trust and lead him to Jamie's terrorist organization, the JBA.
  • In the game Call of Duty: Black Ops, main characters Reznov and Mason plan and escape during the Vorkuta uprising.
  • 2010 film Dog Pound ends in a riot.
  • In the novel The Four Stages of Cruelty Corrections Officer Kali Williams is involved in the breaking up of a prison riot inside Ditmarsh Penitentiary.
  • In the novel Green River Rising by Tim Willocks, set in a fictional east Texas state penitentiary, short stint inmate Ray Klein faces a riot on the very day he is to be released. The ensuing violence could threaten his release or his life (William Morrow, New York, 1994).
  • A prison riot is the focus of Batman: Arkham Asylum, instigated by the Joker in Arkham Asylum.
  • In both the beginning and the climax for Batman: Arkham Origins, Batman has to contend with two prison riots at Blackgate prison, both caused by the Joker (the first while disguised as Black Mask). In addition, one portion of the game had Batman quelling a prison riot at the GCPD headquarters that was instigated by corrupt police officers wanting to make Gordon look bad.
  • The main focus of Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate was a prison riot that occurred at Blackgate prison.

See also


  1. Bidna, H. (1975). Effects of increased security on prison violence. Journal of Criminal Justice, 3. 33-46.
  2. Ellis, D. (1984) Crowding and prison violence: Integration of research and theory. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 11 (3). 277-308.
  3. Gaes, G. (1994). Prison crowding research reexamined. The Prison Journal, 74, (3). 329-363.
  4. Useem, B. (1985). Disorganization and the New Mexico prison riot of 1980. American Sociological Review, 50 (5). 677-688.
  5. Newbold, G. (1989). Punishment and Politics: The Maximum Security Prison in New Zealand. Auckland: Oxford University Press.
  6. Colvin, M. (1982). The 1980 New Mexico prison riot. Social Problems, 29 (5). 449-463.
  7. Useem, B. and Kimball, P. (1987). A theory of prison riots. Theory and Society, 16 (1). 87-122.
  8. Dinitz, S. (1991). Barbarism in the New Mexico state prison riot: The search for meaning a decade later. In Kelly, R. and MacNamara, D. (eds.). Perspectives on Deviance: Dominance, Degradation and Denigration. Cincinnati: Anderson Publishing Company.
  9. Guilbaud, F (2012). To Challenge and Suffer: The Forms and Foundations of Working Inmates’ Social Criticism. Sociétés Contemporaines, 87 (3). 99-121.
  10. Ellis, D. (1984). Crowding and prison violence: Integration of research and theory. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 11 (3). 277-308.