Things That Matter

Two Texas Inmates Were Killed, US Federal Prisons Now on Nationwide Lockdown

On Monday, a deadly gang-related prison brawl forced the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to lockdown all federal prisons in fear of the spread of more violence. The brawl happened at USP Beaumont, a federal prison in Beaumont, Texas that houses 1,372 inmates.

The fight involved members of the MS-13 gang — a largely Salvadoran gang that originated in Los Angeles in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

According to reports, two inmates, Guillermo Riojas, 54 and Andrew Pineda, 34, died during the fight. Pineda was serving a sentence for racketeering; court documents describe Pineda as a member of the Mexican mafia. Riojas was serving time for “carjacking and interfering with interstate commerce.”

Two other inmates were injured during the brawl and taken to the hospital. No employees were hurt.

“In an abundance of caution, the Bureau of Prisons is securing our facilities as a temporary measure to ensure the good order of our institutions,” said BOP spokesperson Emery Nelson to Government Executive. “We anticipate this security measure will be short-lived. The BOP will continue to monitor events carefully and will adjust its operations accordingly as the situation evolves.”

A “prison lockdown” is a protocol in which inmates are confined to their cells with little or no interaction with other inmates. Typically, outside visitors are also banned, although prison visits have already been reduced since the beginning of the pandemic.

The move to lockdown federal prisons nationally is a decision that outlets are calling “unusual.” However, it is not unprecedented. In the past few years, the BOP has ordered prison lockdowns due to surging coronavirus cases, as well as in the aftermath of the 2021 Capital insurrection.

Because of the power and reach of MS-13 (it is an international gang with roughly 10,000 members in the U.S.), it appears that the BOP decided to enforce a federal prison lockdown over fear that MS-13 members in other prisons might take the Beaumont brawl as a call-to-action.

Although MS-13 is a comparatively small gang, it is nonetheless a notorious one, often cited by conservative media outlets as an illustration of the dangers of immigration since most of its members are first-generation Central Americans in the U.S.

The decision to lockdown federal prisons is an example of what experts are calling the BOP’s failure to keep federal prisons secure. In June 2021, the Associated Press reported that a staggering 29 inmates had escaped from federal prison in the previous 18 months. USP Beaumont was one of the biggest offenders in terms of security breaches, with local law enforcement officials allegedly privately joking that the facility has an “open-door policy.”

Just last month, the director of the BOP, Michael Carvajal, announced that he would be retiring — two years after he took on the job. Carvajal’s tenure as BOP director was plagued by scandal. An investigation by the AP revealed that Carvajal had “turned a blind eye” to employee misconduct, which ranged from sexual abuse to bribery to drug smuggling to even alleged murder.

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