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Attica Prison Uprising

How Did the Attica Prison Uprising Start?

The Attica Correctional Facility is a maximum security campus located in New York in the town of Attica. It is operated by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. The facility housed infamous killers like David Berkowitz, Willie Sutton, and Mark David Chapman. But did you know how the Attica Prison Uprising Start?

The prison uprising in Attica, New York, in 1972, saw inmates demand improved living conditions. It came to an end on the fifth day when government enforcement assaulted the jail and killed 29 inmates and 10 hostages. The prisoners were then stripped naked and beaten while crawling through the latrine.

The Rebellion in Attica

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was an increase in major riots in American jails. Riots and partial takeovers of correctional facilities happened in New York City’s Manhattan House of Detention in August 1970 and Auburn’s Auburn Correctional Facility in November 1970. Although neither event caused a crisis on the size of Attica, they did add to the tension thereby boosting guards’ and inmates’ expectations about the prospect of a future rebellion.

In addition, some Auburn inmates were moved to Attica. The prison was overcrowded. In September 1971, it held 2,250 inmates while being designed for only 1,600. It was increasing the risk of an incident even more. Racial tensions were also a prominent part of the uprising; the inmates were almost 55% African American and 10% Hispanic, while the guards were entirely white.

On September 8, an act of horseplay between convicts in the prison yard was misinterpreted by authorities as a serious brawl, triggering the Attica revolt. Guards and convicts got into a fight, and two of the inmates were ordered to disciplinary custody. Anger over the two men’s treatment spread throughout the jail. On September 9, a lieutenant engaged in the earlier incident was assaulted after asking a group of detainees to return to their cells after breakfast. Inmates got access to the prison’s primary control area during the ensuing chaos.

Guards were beaten and taken hostage; one guard received a head injury from which he died two days later. About 1,300 rebelling prisoners assembled in the D yard, one of the prison’s four yards, and the 38 hostages were brought there. The inmates quickly began to organize themselves. A security force was formed to protect the hostages and keep order, and a negotiating committee was selected to handle contact with the prison administration (Source: Britannica

What Happened After the Uprising?

In the years following the revolt in Attica, 62 convicts were charged with over 1,200 criminal offenses, and one state trooper was also accused. 

Hearings on the Attica rebellion in April 1972 were held by an investigation panel directed by Robert McKay, the dean of New York University’s Law School. The commission’s final report detailed the circumstances that contributed to the uprising and was harshly critical of the authorities’ handling of the situation. It chastised Rockefeller for failing to inspect the facility before ordering its retake personally.

Governor Hugh Carey attempted to end the situation in 1974 by pardoning seven inmates and commuting the sentence of an inmate convicted of murdering a correctional officer. Furthermore, Carey concluded that no disciplinary action should be taken against 19 police officers and one citizen who had been recommended for reprimand by investigators.

Carey also determined that 19 police officers and one civilian who investigators believed should be penalized should not face any disciplinary action. 

For years following, prisoners filed civil actions demanding monetary damages for excessive force. The state of New York finally paid out $12 million to inmates in a legal complaint filed in 2000. (Source: Britannica

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