In the racially divided world of prisons, even the slightest misstep may lead to trouble, reports the Rocky Mountain News. A Hispanic gang sells drugs to a white gang’s customers. A white guy uses the black guys’ urinal. Someone sits at the wrong table. It came as no surprise to those who watch prisons that racial slurs aimed at blacks by a group of white supremacists may have set off the riot that left two dead at a Colorado federal prison Sunday.
“It’s an incredibly volatile mix,” said Mark Pitcavage, director of investigative research for the Anti-Defamation League, who has studied prison gangs and extremist groups. “You can have people killed, literally, over nothing.” Racist comments, he added, would be considered among inmates as “a definite provocation.” A 2001 report by Bureau of Prisons researchers studied at least two dozen active gangs in federal prisons. The study determined that of a group of about 82,000 inmates, about 9 percent, or 7,400, were identified as gang members. Inmates affiliated with gangs were more likely to be violent, the study found. Many prison-gang members enter a facility with an established affiliation. Others join up once inside, sometimes for protection. Most prisoners are not gang members, however.