Uprising in Grants, New Mexico Amidst Fears of COVID-19 Outbreak

Uprising in Grants, New Mexico Amidst Fears of COVID-19 Outbreak

Northwestern New Mexico Correctional Center, Grants, New Mexico
March 20, 2020

Approximately 300 prisoners at the Northwestern New Mexico Correctional Center participated in an uprising following the death of a prisoner, The Gallup Independent reports. The prisoners damaged prison infrastructure and fought back against guards.

Cibola County Sheriff Tony Mace told The Durango Herald that prisoners at the facility had complained of the threat of a COVID-19 outbreak in the close quarters of the prison environment. According to the Albuquerque Journal, one prisoner was hospitalized following the uprising.

According to the Herald, “Mace says inmates wrapped towels around their heads as makeshift gas masks, and some of those in the yard threw rocks over the fence at law enforcement. The Department of Corrections used less-than-lethal bean bag rounds and paintball guns containing irritants to regain control.”

New Mexico Corrections Department Spokesman Eric Harrison, who spoke with the Albuquerque Journal, downplayed the incident. “There was a disturbance, we had a group of individuals involved,” Harrison said. “Everything got under control pretty quickly.”

The uprising occurred in the midst of a growing concern about the spread of COVID-19 within jails, prisons and detention centers across the country. In New Mexico, prisoners at facilities across the state have taken legal action in response to the lack of action by the state to protect this vulnerable population. Attorney Parrish Collins, who represents 27 prisoners in various facilities in the state, filed a tort claims notice in early March, indicating a threat to sue if the state continued its inaction.

On March 13, his law office sent a notice to state and NMCD authorities, pointing out the continued medical neglect within the state’s prisons, “Given NMCD’s shameless behavior in the past,” Collins wrote, “it is expected that NMCD and its medical providers will attempt to use Coronavirus as an excuse for further denial of medical care. Rest assured, we fully intend to protect our clients and all of those inmates who have sought our assistance. NMCD and its medical providers will be held accountable for its callous indifference to what is an inevitable outbreak of Coronavirus in the states’ prisons.”


COVID Tort Claims Notice“, Collins and Collins, P.C., March 13, 2020.

Legal Threat Over Prison COVID-19 Potential“, Santa Fe Reporter, March 17, 2020.

Inmate injured during riot at men’s prison“, Albuquerque Journal, March 21, 2020.

Authorities squash western New Mexico prison riot“, The Durango Herald, March 27, 2020.


Article published 4/2/20
Header photo source: Inmate Aid