The Country’s Deadliest Prison Riot Took Place Right Here In New Mexico Over 40 Years Ago

One of New Mexico’s bloodiest events in the past century took place within a mere 36 hours. Today, its legacy lingers. The Santa Fe New Mexico prison riot changed everything we knew about the scariness of our history.

Note: This tragic tale is not for the faint of heart and involves acts of violence that took the lives of several individuals. The following story presents the historical details, though they may be upsetting to some audiences.

Do you remember seeing coverage of the riots when they took place?

You may be able to do a tour of New Mexico State Penitentiary, but they are few and far between. If you want to visit another abandoned town in New Mexico with a less bloody past, you can read and visit the ghost town of Cuervo.

Address: Santa Fe, NM, USA
The OIYS Visitor Center

New Mexico Prison Riot

July 30, 2022

When was the New Mexico State Penitentiary riot? 

On the days of February 2nd and 3rd, 1980, the New Mexico State Penitentiary riot took place. In this incident, inmates violently took control of the entire prison. Inmates murdered other inmates, many of whom had acted as informants for authorities. In the 36 hours the prison was under inmate control, 33 inmates were killed and more than 200 were treated for serious injuries resulting from the bloody brutality of the riots.  

What are some dark moments in New Mexico history? 

New Mexico is certainly a beautiful state, but its history hasn’t been all roses. Once upon a time, New Mexico was part of the wild, wild west, and it’s filled to the brim with dark history and moments. For example, New Mexico has a particularly morbid historic relevance as the site of the top-secret Manhattan Project, in which the world’s first atomic bombs were created and tested. Santa Fe was, unfortunately, the site of some internment camps during World War II. Oh, and there’s a section of the neighborhood (also in Santa Fe) that was built right on over a cemetery. The cemetery is a bit different in its design, too, having many layers of bodies buried right on top of one another just under the surface of the earth. How much do you want to bet those houses are haunted? Oh, and speaking of… there are tons of haunted places in New Mexico, creepy abandoned places in New Mexico, and more that reflects its occasionally-dark history.  

Has there been more than one Santa Fe prison riot?  

Actually, yes. There had been numerous riots at the New Mexico State Penitentiary, including one in July of 1922 and another in June 1953. Neither of those were nearly as bloody and brutal as the 1980 riot – and no prison riots have been as violent and nasty since.  

Address: Santa Fe, NM, USA