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7 more inmates stabbed at Atwater prison

ATWATER -- Seven inmates at U.S. Penitentiary Atwater were stabbed Tuesday, forcing the prison to resume a lockdown.

The federal prison has reported four separate violent fights in the one week that it's been off lockdown. In all, 12 inmates have been stabbed. None has died.

A fight broke out in one of the housing units at the federal prison just before noon, according to a statement from the prison. Correctional officers were able to lock the inmates in their cells and found that seven of them had suffered puncture wounds.

Two inmates were taken to a local hospital, while the rest were treated inside the prison. No staff members were injured in the fight.

Prison spokesman Jesse Gonzalez didn't return phone calls for comment.

The high-security prison had been on a three-month lockdown until last week, a response to the stabbing death of correctional officer Jose Rivera.

The 22-year-old Navy veteran died June 20 after a two inmates stabbed him with a handmade shank inside one of the housing units. They now face murder charges and could face the death penalty.

Rivera's killing caused a community group to form to lobby for better working conditions for correctional officers.

Rivera, following Bureau of Prisons policy, wasn't wearing a stab-resistant vest or carrying any weapons when he was killed.

Friends and Family of Correctional Officers has been lobbying prison management to give workers vests and nonlethal weapons, such as Tasers or batons.

Group spokesman Andy Krotik noted that violence has been an epidemic within the prison walls after learning of the latest stabbing.

"Is there anybody out there who's surprised?" Krotik asked. "This has been a ticking time bomb of gigantic proportions."

Putting the prison on lockdown once more was the right decision, Krotik said, adding that a full shakedown should happen so there aren't any more weapons inside the inmates' cells.

The group is trying to organize a trip to Washington, D.C., to lobby lawmakers to meet their requests. It also wants a congressional inquiry into the Bureau of Prisons' safety standards.

The correctional officers' union has been consistently critical of staffing shortages, which it sees as the main way to prevent prison violence. The Atwater prison has been in need of more staff since it opened, the union alleges. The Bureau of Prisons lists Atwater as having an "urgent need," and it's offering a recruitment incentive.

Reporter Scott Jason can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or jason@mercedsun-star.com.

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